One of the most common misconceptions that we hear when we are discussing parental rights with new or prospective clients is their belief that they are the legal parent of a child by virtue of appearing on the birth certificate.
As the National Center for Lesbian Rights explains:
It is extremely important for non-biological parents to get a[n] … adoption as soon as possible to ensure that their parental rights will be respected …. Having your name on the birth certificate does not necessarily make you a legal parent – only an adoption … can ensure that parental rights will be respected.
Connecticut allows unmarried same sex partners both to become legal parents of a child born into their relationship through a process called “second parent adoption.” Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 45a-724(3), in a second parent adoption, the partner who gave birth to the child (or adopted the child on his or her own), agrees to the adoption of the child by another person “who shares parental responsibility for the child.” Following a second parent adoption, the child has two legal parents for all purposes.
What Can Happen if Unmarried Partners Do Not Adopt?
As a general matter, the rights of the “second” partner (for example, the non-birth parent) are limited. For example, when there is no marriage, the law permits the “second” partner to petition the Superior Court for visitation but not for custody of the child. Following an adoption, if a couple separates, both parents have the right to custody and visitation, and any disputes will be decided based on what is in the best interests of the child rather than on who is the legal parent.
Without an adoption, the non-legal parent can be required to have special permission to seek medical care for the child, or to attend school meetings. Following an adoption, that partner is the child’s legal parent entitled to make decisions for the child in day-to-day and emergency matters.
After an adoption, if one parent dies, the other parent will automatically assume custody of the child without a fight from others. In addition, the child has the automatic right to inherit from her deceased parent, even if there is no will, and possibly to collect social security survivor benefits.
Even Married Same Sex Spouses Need to Adopt
Although this post focuses on why unmarried same sex partners need to adopt their children, it is also important that married same sex partners adopt their children as well. Our posts here and here go into greater detail about why.