It is the goal of many same-sex couples to start a family, married or otherwise. However, the process of bringing a child into the world, or adopting one, can be complex to navigate in Ohio, particularly in ensuring that parental rights are secured.
Despite the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage, and the rights attendant to such marriage, legal throughout the United States, many laws and binding judicial decisions in Ohio are still based on a heterosexual couple norm. And until such laws are updated and judicial decisions overturned, securing parental rights for LGBTQ couples may require extra effort.
For example, for a queer couple using assisted reproductive technology (e.g., donated egg, sperm, or embryo or surrogacy), despite the couple planning to have a child together and parent the child together, the parentage automatically conferred at birth will depend on the marital status of the couple. If married, both spouses names may be listed on the baby’s birth certificate. Even then, however, to ensure one’s parental rights—particularly of the spouse who did not give birth—adoption is recommended. This is because a birth certificate is only an administrative record and not as strong as a court order.
In Ohio, a married couple may petition for a joint adoption (if the child is not birthed by either of the individuals) or for step-parent adoption. Step-parent adoption creates a relationship between the adopting step-parent and the child that is the same as if the child were born to the step-parent.
For unmarried couples in Ohio, the options for securing parental rights are more restricted. Joint adoption is not permitted—for either heterosexual or same-sex couples. Step-parent adoption is prohibited if the couple is not married. And second-parent adoption—adoption by a person who is not married to a legal parent of the child—is unavailable in Ohio courts. (Ohio must, however, recognize a second-parent adoption that is granted in another state.) The best option for protecting one’s parental rights if unmarried in Ohio is with a shared parenting plan that may be filed with the court.
The adoption process can vary by county. For example, in Summit County, a couple must be married for 6 months before a step-parent adoption can be finalized (the wedding date would be the start of the adoptive placement). The filing fee is $586.00 for the first child and $161.00 for each additional child.
Please refer to your specific county’s probate court for more information regarding requirements and costs for adoption and consult with an attorney well versed in LGBTQ adoption law. Equality Ohio Legal Clinic attorneys are here to answer your questions and help you navigate the adoption process.