We have made two trips to family court in the last four years, and not for what most people would assume. We weren’t getting a divorce, we weren’t fighting for custody over our children, and we weren’t there regarding foster care. No, we were there for a second parent adoption on both occasions.
Prior to and immediately after the Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court case (the court case that legalized gay marriage), we decided that we needed to protect our family by going through a second parent adoption. We conceived both of our babies via IUI and donor sperm, and my wife legally had zero parenting rights over our two children despite attending every doctor’s appointment during the process, being present during labor and delivery, and being a mom and parenting our newborn babies. The thought of her not having parenting rights was a horrific thought for us – one that we just didn’t want to risk any longer. Thus, we hired an attorney and filed for a second parent adoption.
The process was tedious. It involved numerous home studies done by a licensed social worker, letters from friends and family attesting to our parenting abilities as one unit, documentation of our salaries and bank records and copies of my wife’s health records. After that, we were finally given a court date. We loaded up our then six month old first born and headed to family court. We went through security and headed up stairs. We waited patiently in the waiting area for our turn to see the judge. Then, it was time. The court had appointed a Guardian at Light to protect to our daughter’s rights and ask questions on her behalf.
After all testimony, our second parent adoption was granted and we were “officially” a family. The judge asked if we wanted to take pictures, and we laughed. To us, we had been a family since conception, not since a second parent adoption was finally legally approved. Thus, we opted out of a group photo and left family court.
Much to our dismay, we would find ourselves in the exact same situation two years later when our second baby was born. This time, however, gay marriage was legal, and we were sure that we were not going to have to endure yet another second parent adoption (marriage ensures parenting rights for both parties in the marriage). After pleading with the hospital to put both of our names on the birth certificate, they informed us that they still couldn’t do it — it was too soon after the official Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court case and no “official” changes to the law had been made regarding the listing of two people of the same sex on a birth certificate. Thus, even though gay marriage was legal, we would still have to go back to family court, and my wife would again have to fight for parenting rights.
This time, though, the process took longer. Judge after judge would reject our case because they weren’t sure we even needed to go through with the second parent adoption. They couldn’t figure out if our marriage gave my wife legal parenting rights or not. We were caught in the legal limbo of a court system that couldn’t seem to figure out how to proceed. Eventually, our case went before the judge and our second parent adoption went through. And for the second time, we again chose to take no pictures at the court house.
Though we took no pictures on either occasion at the Jackson County Courthouse, the sights, sounds, smells and the way we were treated will always be etched in my memory. From the security man checking my purse and our diaper bag for weapons, to the woman asking us to sign in, to both guardian at lights appointed to represent our children, to our attorney, to our social worker, and to the judge, I will never forget.
I will also never forget the many children in the waiting room with their lives at the complete discretion of the judge they were to see in a matter of moments. Though one could be bitter about having to go through two second parent adoptions, we choose not to be. Instead, we choose to be thankful that we weren’t in family court for any other reason.