The Evolving Nature of Second-Parent Adoption in North Carolina

Second-parent adoption, a legal procedure by which gay and lesbian parents can adopt their partner’s biological or adopted child without terminating the first parent’s rights, is gaining acceptance nationwide. Currently, nine states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont) plus the District of Columbia offer same-sex couples the option of second-parent adoption state-wide.

North Carolina has been in a group of sixteen other states (including Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington) that has granted second-parent adoptions to same-sex couples in some localities. Since 2004, these adoptions have been granted in Orange and Durham Counties in North Carolina.

Now, it is North Carolina’s turn to consider this issue on a state-wide basis. Last year, the North Carolina Court of Appeals decided the case of Boseman v. Jarrell in which the Court was asked to determine the validity of these adoptions. In this case, the parties were in a committed relationship and conceived a child through the use of assisted reproductive medicine. In 2002, Jarrell gave birth to a son and the parties thereafter raised him together, referring to Jarrell as “Mommy” and Boseman as “Mom.” In August 2005, a decree was entered in Durham County, NC permitting Boseman’s second-parent adoption petition. Eventually, the parties separated and became adversarial. Jarrell sought a court order decreeing the adoption to be void. The trial court held the adoption was not void and Jarrell appealed to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals decision, issued in August 2009, affirmed the trial court’s order and held that if a trial court does grant a second-parent adoption with the biological parent’s consent, that adoption is not void and the biological parent cannot subsequently contest its validity. The Court of Appeals stated that a “minor’s interests, both financial and emotional, are protected” by second-parent adoption and stated that in this case “the minor will still be entitled to the support and care of the two adults who have acted as his parents and they will both remain fully obligated to his welfare” by the court’s affirming the adoption decree.

Jarrell appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Oral arguments were heard on September 8, 2010 and a decision is expected within the next few months.

As the law in this area continues to evolve, it is important to have experienced attorneys who are familiar with the nuances that may be critical. James, McElroy & Diehl, P.A. has a team of family law attorneys who work to secure every legal protection available for a client’s family relationships.