US Supreme Court: Second Parent Adoptions Protected by Full Faith and Credit

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state must give full faith and credit to a judgment granting a second parent adoption issued by a court of competent jurisdiction of another state.

A second parent adoption is similar to a stepparent adoption, where one spouse adopts the other spouse’s child, except that the petitioner in a second parent adoption is not married to the child’s legal parent.  Second parent adoptions were most closely associated with same-sex partners as, until recently, same-sex marriages were not permitted or recognized in Florida and around the country.

Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svgSecond parent adoption was the only method available (where it was permitted) for many LGBT individuals to gain legal recognition as a second parent to a child.

In the case, V.L. v. E.L., 577 U.S. ___ (2016), two women, E.L. and V.L.  were in a relationship from 1995 until 2011.  About seven years into the relationship, E.L. became pregnant via assisted reproductive technology and gave birth to a child (and a couple of years later, to twins).  The women raised the children as co-parents.

At some point during the relationship, V.L., with the consent E.L., petitioned to adopt the children as a second parent in a Georgia court.  The court determined it had jurisdiction and that V.L. filed all the appropriate paperwork, and so it granted the adoption.  Now both E.L. and V.L. were legally considered parents of the children.

In 2011, after moving to Alabama, the women separated.  After claiming that E.L. refused to permit her to spend any time with the children, V.L. filed a petition in an Alabama court to recognize the Georgia adoption decree and establish a visitation plan.  The trial court entered an order awarding V.L. visitation rights.

E.L. appealed the decision, and it eventually got to the Alabama Supreme Court.  The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Georgia statutes did not permit an unmarried person to adopt another unmarried person’s child without terminating parental rights, and thus the Georgia court did not have jurisdiction to grant the second parent adoption in the first place.  Accordingly, Alabama courts should not recognize adoption decrees from Georgia granting second parent adoptions.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Alabama decision.  The U.S. Supreme Court determined that, though Georgia statutes did not explicitly state that second parent adoptions were permitted in the state, the statutes did hold that Georgia trial courts “shall have exclusive jurisdiction in all matters of adoption.” Ga. Code Ann. s. 19-8-2(a) (2015).

And so, as the Georgia court determined that V.L. had filed all of the appropriate paperwork, and further determined that it had authority over the subject matter of a second parent adoption, Alabama courts were required under the U.S. Constitution to give full faith and credit to the Georgia second parent adoption decree.

If you have questions about second parent adoptions or other LGBT family law rights in Florida, schedule a consultation with Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm at (813) 443-0615 or by CLICKING HERE to fill out our contact form.

Attorney Adam B. Cordover was a collaborative attorney and appellate attorney in Shaw v. Shaw, the first dissolution of marriage matter in Florida to challenge Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act and constitutional ban on the recognition of same-sex marriage.

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