Jan 03, 2011

North Carolina Supreme Court Voids All Second Parent Adoptions

In a shocking and destructive opinion issued on December 21, 2010, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a non-biological lesbian mom who adopted the son born to her partner was no longer the child's legal parent--her adoption is void, and so is every other second parent adoption granted in North Carolina in the past. 

Yes, for real. Hundreds of North Carolina children went from having two legal moms to having only one, all as the result of the efforts of Melissa Jarrell. Jarrell isthe biological mother of an 8-year-old son who, until this opinion, was also the legal son of Jarrell's former partner, Julia Boseman

When Jarrell and Boseman split up, Boseman sought custody of her son, and Jarrell argued that Boseman was not a parent and had no right to custody. The basis for the argument was that the adoption should never have been granted, because North Carolina's adoption laws require that a legal parent give up rights to a child in an adoption unless the legal parent is married to the person adopting the child. In other words, unless the adopting parent is a stepparent, the legal parent can't retain rights. 

The Supreme Court agreed that the adoption should never have been granted, and that all such adoptions previously granted were also void from the outset. The horrible result for the other children of lesbian parents in North Carolina, as concisely described by Nancy Polikoff in her Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage blog, is that those children "now lose the economic and emotional security of having two legally recognized parents."  

The irony in this case is that the court still held that Boseman has a right to seek custody of her child under a "best interests of the child" standard, because Jarrell voluntarily created a family unit with Boseman and their son. This means that Boseman retains joint custody of her son, and the same is likely to be true for the other parents whose adoption decrees have become void. But because Boseman and these other parents are no longer legal parents, their children have lost the right to Social Security and other types of survivors' benefits, and may lose insurance coverage and other benefits. Nor will they be able to inherit from these non-legal parents in the absence of a will. 

In short, Melissa Jarrell failed in her primary goal, which was to keep Boseman from parenting their son. However, her selfish efforts to achieve that goal have harmed hundreds of North Carolina children in significant ways. 

Some other states that have faced this question of consent and termination of rights have ruled the same way the North Carolina court did (without voiding past adoptions), but then turned around and solved the problem with legislation allowing second parent adoptions. With a Republican majority set to take control of the North Carolina legislature, no one's too optimistic about this happening in North Carolina.

In case you are wondering how bad this really is, check out Nancy Polikoff's followup post here