Recently, NPR’s All Things Considered covered this interesting trend happening among same-sex couples who are married and parenting children together. The story covers the case of Meredith and Martha Holley-Miers who have two children together via anonymous sperm donor. The fact of legal parentage for Martha is established as she is the one that carried the children. But those legalities are not as clear for Meredith, even though the couple has been legally married for more than seven years.
This meant for the Holley-Miers that they would have to do something to protect Meredith’s rights to her children. That process is known as second-parent adoption. When NPR put out the word that they were seeking information on the process and stories of families who were doing these second-parent adoptions, they heard from “dozens of people from Oregon to Oklahoma.” Some of the respondents called it “humiliating,” “absurd,” and “frustrating.” Other families considered it a “mere inconvenience.”
For the Holley-Miers family, the whole adoption process took months and cost about $3,500. A judge granted Meredith the adoption of her daughter Janey in July 2009.
That process involved a physical, blood work, TB test, and fingerprinting, says Meredith. There were additional state and FBI background checks, too. But the most stressful aspect of the process, the couple says, was a home visit by a social worker.
But they did it, feeling that it was the right thing to do to protect their family and specifically their children. They recently began the second-parent adoption process again, this time for their three-year old son, Jack.
Their attorney, Michele Zavos, feels strongly that this was the right move for the Holley-Miers’ family.
“Our law is based on heterosexual, patriarchal circumstances,” Zavos says. “What we’ve had to do is take that framework and use it to then try and create legal relationships for people who don’t fit that framework. Second-parent adoptions were made up — I think first in California — probably about 30 years ago. And now they are the law of the land.”
The Supreme Court has weighed in on this, saying states have to legally recognize second-parent adoptions granted by courts in other states — no exceptions.
Still, Martha and Meredith struggle with the equity of it all.
“It was hard to not compare our experience to the experience of straight couples who — while I know a lot of straight couples have a hard time having kids — there are a lot of people who get pregnant without even planning it, and nobody really questions whether or not they are fit parents,” Martha says. “It just felt really unfair.”
Though there is some evolution of thought regarding this issue of family law in some jurisdictions, Zavos is convinced that this legal step of second-parent adoption is a safe-guard that ought to be considered for more couples like the Holley-Miers.