Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Look at Stepparent Adoption in New York

How do I get started with adopting my stepchild in New York?

Millions of families across the United States include stepparents.  Stepparent adoption is the most common type of adoption nationally, and thousands of new stepfamilies are created every day.  In New York, stepparents often seek to adopt their stepchildren to establish a permanent legal bond that will be critical to their future.

Stepparent adoptions are easier and can happen faster than other types of adoption, but like any adoption they require stringent adherence to deadlines and completion of several vital steps.  If you are a stepparent looking to adopt your stepchild, consult with a

Read more . . .

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Adoption & Consent

Are you interested in adopting?  The adoption process can be lengthy and complicated, so it is advised to seek advice and guidance from a licensed family law attorney.  Depending on your state’s legal requirements, consent may be needed from a child or even from the birth or stepparents of a child in order for an adoption to be legally permitted.  However, the requirements may vary depending on your status, such as if you are single or married.  For example, if you plan to adopt and are married, your spouse may also be required to adopt the child.

Read more . . .

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sen. Gillibrand Seeks to Modernize Foster Care System

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is sponsoring legislation that is designed to enable states to use a standardized interstate system to streamline the placement of children in adoptive or foster homes. The bill, Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act, has bipartisan support.

"Thousands of children in New York and across the country urgently need a loving home, but often child welfare agencies don't explore the option of placing them with a foster family out of state because of long paperwork processing delays," Gillibrand said. 

There is such a system already in use in five states and the District of Columbia, the National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise (NEICE) which proponents say has reduced the time it takes to place a child in an adoptive of foster home by 45 days. The legislation, if approved, would provide temporary funding for states to implement the NEICE system and by 2022, all states would be required to join the system.

Lawmakers contend that foster children typically face long delays getting placed in a loving home because they often need to move to another state in order to live with a relative, adoptive parent or foster family. The current system requires exhaustive paperwork and often gets entangled in governmental bureaucracy. The bill is intended to cut red tape and speed up the process.

Several organizations, including the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, and the American Public Human Services Association, support the proposed legislation. The groups believe that when NEICE is implemented, it will also help to ameliorate other risk factors for children, including illegal re-homing and sex trafficking.

Toward Legal Adoptions

Adoption is the legal process whereby parental rights are transferred to the adopting parents, creating a new parent-child relationship. A legal adoption gives the adoptive parents the same rights and responsibilities as parents of a biological child. At the same time, the adopted child is granted the same legal rights as a biological child, including inheritance rights and child support.

One of the most common adoptions is a stepparent adoption in which the stepparent becomes the child’s new legal parent. Some states also recognize domestic partner adoptions which follow the same general format and procedure as stepparent adoptions. If you have questions about adoptions in New York, you should consult with an attorney with expertise in family law.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Special Issues Confronting Lesbian and Gay Parents When They Adopt

What areas of concern face gay and lesbian when they adopt?

Adopting children is a life-changing event for any couple, but it becomes a more complicated legal process when the adopting couple is gay or lesbian. Now that homosexual marriage is legal in all 50 states, the problem is being given more serious attention. One of the difficulties for these couples is that laws governing adoption differ from state to state.

How Lesbians and Gay Men Become Parents

In some cases, one member of a gay or lesbian couple already has a child or children, but, if they are starting a family by adopting a child, the possibilities include:

  • One partner in a lesbian couple gives birth to a child (usually through artificial insemination)
  • One partner in a gay couple donates sperm to fertilize a donor egg and uses a surrogate mother

In either of these cases, the nonbiological parent becomes a legal parent through second or stepparent adoption.

In some states, same-sex couples can adopt children jointly, meaning that both partners are legal parents from the outset. For same-sex couples in some states, however, such as Mississippi and Utah, same-sex couples are still forbidden to adopt. It is, therefore, essential that gay couples investigate the laws in the state in which they reside.

Because the decision to legalize gay and lesbian marriages throughout the U.S. is still new, attorneys continue to recommend that the nonbiological parent in same-sex couples complete stepparent adoptions so that there is no remaining ambiguity should the couple move to another state or split up or should the biological parent predecease the nonbiological parent. The adoption also protects the parent-child relationship in regard to Social Security and other federal benefits.

Legal parents have certain rights and responsibilities. They have the right to live with the child, either full-time or part-time and to make decisions about the child's health, education and well-being. Legal parents are also responsible for financially supporting the child. When they adopt jointly, whether gay or straight, both partners are automatically considered legal parents, whether they stay together or eventually separate or divorce. In states in which it is legal, not only can same-sex couples adopt jointly, but they can adopt the biological child of the other partner, ensuring legal parenthood.

What Happens if a Gay or Lesbian Couple Breaks Up?

If the nonbiological parent has not legally adopted the child, his or her relationship with the child may be in jeopardy if the couple divorces. While some courts recognize the concept of a "de facto " or "psychological" parent, signifying that the individual has lived with the child and fulfilled parental duties, and that it would be detrimental to the child to be completely separated from this "parent," there have been many instances where the nonbiological parent has been treated as a stranger and prevented from having visitation with the child when the couple splits up. Such decisions are clearly cruel to both nonbiological parent and child and will likely cause permanent psychological damage.

Benefits of a Parenting Agreement

No couple, gay or straight, enters into a marriage with the expectation that the relationship will end, but we all know the grim statistics. It is always best to plan for the worst case scenario. If joint parenting isn't available to you as an option, you should consult with a highly competent family attorney to write up a legally binding parenting agreement.

Such an agreement will make clear that, though only one of you is the legal parent, you both consider yourself parents of your child, even if your marriage ends in dissolution. This parenting agreement should cover all issues that may become relevant in case you separate, including visitation, access to school and social events, and the financial responsibilities of both partners.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Strange Part of Adoption History

Why did gay adult adoption take place?

 Now, when gay marriage has become a legal right in all parts of the United States, looking back at the rampant discrimination against gays since the founding of this country may seem almost surreal. In some ways, it's like looking back at the history of civil rights in general, full of nearly unbelievable injustice. We are all aware that discrimination of all types is still alive and well in the United States, but legal advances have certainly been made.

The question is: What did gay couples do to ensure their partners inherited their estates before laws were changed? In some cases, long-term gay couples turned to the only legal recourse they had in order to enable their partners to inherit their estates: one partner legally adopted the other.

When Discrimination Was Legal

Below are some examples of how far we've come in gay rights, even during the past decade.

[1] In an attempt to liberalize the laws of his day, Thomas Jefferson wrote a law in Virginia in 1779 proposing castration as a punishment for men who engaged in sodomy, instead of the punishment of death that was on the books.

[2] Prior to 1962, when Illinois decriminalized consensual homosexual acts, such acts were considered felonies in every state in the Union, punished by long prison sentences.

[3] The Supreme Court did not strike down laws against sodomy throughout the U.S. until 2003.

[4] As late as 1966, gays and lesbians could not legally buy a drink in a NYC bar.

[5] Even after the Stonewall riots of 1969, the American Psychiatric Association still categorized homosexuality as a mental illness. The designation of homosexuality as a mental disorder did not occur until 1973.

[6] Until gay civil unions became legal, at first only in Vermont in 2000, gay couples had no legal rights to be considered "family" when it came to many important matters, such as visiting partners in the hospital or inheriting assets.

Reading these examples, it becomes clear why gay couples felt they had to find a legal loophole to keep their families intact and financially solvent. In a notable case of adult gay adoption, Bayard Rustin, an early proponent of civil rights, adopted his partner, 27-year-old Walter Naegle, in 1977.

Rustin was no stranger to fighting the system -- he was in charge of logistics for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington for freedom and jobs, and he was instrumental in working to integrate the New York City schools. Realizing that, since he was more than 30 years older than his partner, he would almost certainly predecease him, he wanted to ensure that his life partner would inherit his estate. In 1982, there were few options available, but the couple saw a newspaper article about a Midwestern couple who had tried (unsuccessfully) to adopt one another in order to form a legal bond. Rustin suggested that they might try the same tactic.

It was far from simple. First, Naegle's biological mother had to legally disown her child. Then a social worker had to visit the Rustin-Naegle home to determine if it was "fit for a child." The social worker, Naegle recalled, understood perfectly well what the situation was, but was actually there to determine that neither the older man, nor the younger one, was being preyed upon.

In their case, the strategy proved successful. When Rustin was hospitalized with a perforated appendix and peritonitis, Naegle was able to visit him in the hospital. When Rustin died, Naegle was executor of his will and inherited as planned.

Fortunately such manipulations are no longer necessary in this country, but adoption, even of the ordinary kind, can require jumping through some legal hoops and a great deal of patience. Any couple, gay or straight, interested in adopting a child should work with an experienced family lawyer to facilitate the process.

Friday, June 26, 2015

New York Senator Introduces Bill to Eliminate LGBT Bias in Adoption

What is the legal landscape for same-sex couples looking to adopt a child? 

Adoption is a highly-regulated matter, and is accordingly treated very differently in the various U.S. jurisdictions. Some states, including New York, have explicitly prohibited any form of discrimination in the adoption process, and prohibit adoption agencies from refusing adoption consideration based on one’s status as an LGBT individual. Other states have taken the opposite view, and are openly biased against same-sex couples seeking to adopt a child in need of a family. 

In the eyes of U.S. Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), this bias simply must end – and the proposed Every Child Deserves a Family Act is drafted to yank federal funding from any adoption agency refusing to work with LGBT applicants solely based on their sexual orientation and/or marital status. 

Basics of the Act

There are a variety of avenues through which children are adopted in the United States. In many cases, children are adopted through the foster care system – often by the foster parents themselves. Other children are required to live in a shelter or facility until a family becomes available, while some remain wards of the state until age 18 and are never offered the opportunity of experiencing a cohesive family. 

In several states, LGBT individuals or couples are either subjected to more rigorous evaluation standards, or are excluded from eligibility all together. Under the proposed Act, any agency that accepts federal funding for assistance with adoption services would be prohibited from engaging in any discriminatory practices with regard to vetting potential foster or adoptive parents – or the agency’s funding would be revoked. 

The statistics surrounding un-adopted children are staggering, with as many as 23,000 American youths aging out of the system before ever being adopted. Currently, there are over 102,000 children awaiting adoption in the United States. 

If you are considering adoption, or would like to discuss the New York laws surrounding adoption procedures, please do not hesitate to contact Nassau County family law attorney Howard Leff today at (516)739-7500.

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