Three Parent Adoption – A Child Centered Approach on the Rise

When I was growing up in the 60s, divorce was rarely spoken of and, if it occurred, there was a fair amount of shame associated with the disclosure. If parents divorced and remarried, there were complex family dynamics that ensued for parents, step-parents and step-children. Everyone had labels, roles, and aching hearts. We walked on eggshells a lot of the time. I suspect many of us have funny and not-so-funny experiences we can now recount, of our own families or those of friends involving blended families. There were the parent-teacher conferences, bat mitzvahs, weddings, and graduations when the spouses, exes, formers and current, all showed up. Cartoonist Jules Pfieffer and playwright Neil Simon could have had a field day.

In the old days, divorces were more often handled in less than child-centered ways. Parents tugged on children’s hearts and limbs, their time and their loyalties, making the unspoken “ownership” theme a core focus of the relationship. When, following divorce, one or another parent re-married, it was (and still is) common for the wife to take the surname of the new husband. Thus, in a blended family consisting of the newly re-married couple, children of the husband and then children of the wife – the latter are likely to feel some tinge (or more) of non-membership in the new family. It may be important here, to acknowledge that I’m speaking of patterns in the US; cross-cultural patterns often vary, with larger meanings associated with the roles of family members.

No one hyphenated names back then. And no one would have thought to give the wife’s children a legal relationship with the man who was there for them as a dad day-in and day-out. It would have been incomprehensible that a child’s biological father and step-father would have agreed to share the title of father, much less accord each other equal legal standing.

With this social history as a back-drop, it is mind-opening to learn that some courts are allowing three parent adoptions. In a case in Massachusetts, two lesbian moms and a known donor father were, all three, actively involved in the children’s lives. In their family’s situation, it seemed fitting to ask the court to recognize all of them as legal parents – a win-win all around. The child would benefit from the security of the legal relationships and the parents would have a socially recognized basis to feel secure in the relationship as well. The judge approved the petition for a three parent adoption.

It is interesting to contemplate an approach that is focused on the child’s needs rather than an “ownership” model of parenthood. One wonders: What if children were not divided like a piece of pie, but, instead, were supported with all the love and care from multiple primary adults in their lives? And what if those relationships were fully acknowledged by society through our legal structures?

Three parent adoptions have occurred in Massachusetts, Oregon and Alaska, but there may be other jurisdictions as well. Adoptions are sealed records, so it is not easy to learn whether, in select cases and jurisdictions, lower courts or probate court judges have allowed three parent adoptions. These decisions are often not reported or published, and adoptions, in general, are sealed. It is usually only when there is an issue that is appealed that a case rises to the level of being published or “reported.” In some instances, attorneys issue a press release noting that they’ve broken new legal ground in their jurisdiction. (e.g. Oregon, June 15, 2011, Beth A. Allen Law P.C., http://bethallenlaw.com/press-releases/). Attorney Allen has assisted in a number of three parent adoptions and indicates that other attorneys in Oregon are doing the same; these include families with same sex parents and father/donors and also ‘poly’ families where there are more than two adults in a committed, loving, family relationship. In other instances, attorneys have shared the non-identifying information of having assisted families with three parent adoptions as part of public legal education (e.g., Joyce Kauffman Esq. answering questions for http://ask.familyequality.org).

Legislators in some states are proposing statutes that will make express that three parent adoptions are legally recognized. For example, a proposed bill in California would legalize third and fourth parent adoptions. “Measure Opens Door to Three Parents, or Four” by Ian Lovett, July 13, 2012, NY Times. An article describing the proposed legislation is found at: (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/14/us/a-california-bill-would-legalize-third-and-fourth-parent-adoptions.html?pagewanted=all). Governor Brown vetoed the bill in September 2012, but indicated that he would like to have more time to consider the measure, which has been characterized as, “an implicit invitation for Senator Leno to send the bill back to his desk next year.” http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2012/09/brown-rejects-bill-that-would-have-allowed-a-child-to-have-more-than-two-legal-parents.html.

The primary impetus for three -parent adoptions is application of the legal standard, “the best interests of the child.” There simply are situations where there are more than two adults who are truly being parents to a child in a long-term, consistent fashion. There is a popular statement, most often acknowledged as a proverb in Africa, sometimes also attributed to Native American culture, and popularized in the U.S. by both Ted Kennedy and Hilary Clinton, states, “Sometimes it takes a village to raise a child.” In fact, sometimes it is the concerted effort of more than two fully recognized parents that are foundational to a child’s care and growth. If an adult has consistently behaved like a parent, and, if it’s in the best interests of the child that the relationship has legal protections, it may be appropriate for a court to recognize the legal relationship. A cross-cultural study of multiple parent families might yield some insights into the factors that help this family form work well long-term.

The advent of the three parent adoption is not confined to the United States. Canada, in the 2007 case of A.A. v B.B. (2007), 83 O.R. (3d) 561, decided by the Ontario Court of Appeal, exercising judicial authority under the parens patriae doctrine, found that the child, referred to by initials “D.D.”, should be deemed to have three legal parents. “The Court’s reasoning in A.A. v B.B represents a shift in judicial attitudes regarding the determination of legal parenthood in non-traditional cases,” writes Alison Bird in “Legal Parenthood and the Recognition of Alternative Family Forms in Canada,” 264 UNB LJ 264 (2010).

One can spend considerable time considering variations on the theme of three (and four) parent adoptions, trying to imagine both the questions and answers that would evolve from a variety of “what ifs…” The option for a three or four parent adoption, at its best, affords a child-centered approach that focuses on all the good that a child can receive from sound, well-coordinated, grounded and loving parents. As with any new opportunity, there will always be a case for which reasonable people will later conclude that, for ”that” family, the three or four parent idea was not a good fit. In this moment, the scenarios for which it might be helpful to a child predominate. One can not help but also think backwards in time and wonder how many blended families might have had greater harmony if they had enlarged the circle of those who could be recognized as loving parents rather than having a closed-loop/ownership mentality which meant that for one parent to be recognized, another had to vanish.

It can be anticipated that this broadening of what is legally recognized as family and how we think about the role of parents will expand and, in the proper cases, will include step-parents as well. One can imagine that this may also be a topic for conversation in some infant adoptions. Contemplating three (and four) parent adoptions may increasingly be a part of building a firm family foundation under children’s healthful growth and development in the years ahead.

Marla Allisan, JD,LICSW

The author is the Founder and Director of AAA Full Circle Adoptions & Family Building Center, Inc,
in Northampton and Arlington, MA.

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Three Parent Adoption – A Child Centered Approach on the Rise

When I was growing up in the 60s, divorce was rarely spoken of and, if it occurred, there was a fair amount of shame associated with the disclosure. If parents divorced and remarried, there were complex family dynamics that ensued for parents, step-parents and step-children. Everyone had labels, roles, and aching hearts. We walked on eggshells a lot of the time. I suspect many of us have funny and not-so-funny experiences we can now recount, of our own families or those of friends involving blended families. There were the parent-teacher conferences, bat mitzvahs, weddings, and graduations when the spouses, exes, formers and current, all showed up. Cartoonist Jules Pfieffer and playwright Neil Simon could have had a field day.

In the old days, divorces were more often handled in less than child-centered ways. Parents tugged on children’s hearts and limbs, their time and their loyalties, making the unspoken “ownership” theme a core focus of the relationship. When, following divorce, one or another parent re-married, it was (and still is) common for the wife to take the surname of the new husband. Thus, in a blended family consisting of the newly re-married couple, children of the husband and then children of the wife – the latter are likely to feel some tinge (or more) of non-membership in the new family. It may be important here, to acknowledge that I’m speaking of patterns in the US; cross-cultural patterns often vary, with larger meanings associated with the roles of family members.

No one hyphenated names back then. And no one would have thought to give the wife’s children a legal relationship with the man who was there for them as a dad day-in and day-out. It would have been incomprehensible that a child’s biological father and step-father would have agreed to share the title of father, much less accord each other equal legal standing.

With this social history as a back-drop, it is mind-opening to learn that some courts are allowing three parent adoptions. In a case in Massachusetts, two lesbian moms and a known donor father were, all three, actively involved in the children’s lives. In their family’s situation, it seemed fitting to ask the court to recognize all of them as legal parents – a win-win all around. The child would benefit from the security of the legal relationships and the parents would have a socially recognized basis to feel secure in the relationship as well. The judge approved the petition for a three parent adoption.

It is interesting to contemplate an approach that is focused on the child’s needs rather than an “ownership” model of parenthood. One wonders: What if children were not divided like a piece of pie, but, instead, were supported with all the love and care from multiple primary adults in their lives? And what if those relationships were fully acknowledged by society through our legal structures?

Three parent adoptions have occurred in Massachusetts, Oregon and Alaska, but there may be other jurisdictions as well. Adoptions are sealed records, so it is not easy to learn whether, in select cases and jurisdictions, lower courts or probate court judges have allowed three parent adoptions. These decisions are often not reported or published, and adoptions, in general, are sealed. It is usually only when there is an issue that is appealed that a case rises to the level of being published or “reported.” In some instances, attorneys issue a press release noting that they’ve broken new legal ground in their jurisdiction. (e.g. Oregon, June 15, 2011, Beth A. Allen Law P.C., http://bethallenlaw.com/press-releases/). Attorney Allen has assisted in a number of three parent adoptions and indicates that other attorneys in Oregon are doing the same; these include families with same sex parents and father/donors and also ‘poly’ families where there are more than two adults in a committed, loving, family relationship. In other instances, attorneys have shared the non-identifying information of having assisted families with three parent adoptions as part of public legal education (e.g., Joyce Kauffman Esq. answering questions for http://ask.familyequality.org).

Legislators in some states are proposing statutes that will make express that three parent adoptions are legally recognized. For example, a proposed bill in California would legalize third and fourth parent adoptions. “Measure Opens Door to Three Parents, or Four” by Ian Lovett, July 13, 2012, NY Times. An article describing the proposed legislation is found at: (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/14/us/a-california-bill-would-legalize-third-and-fourth-parent-adoptions.html?pagewanted=all). Governor Brown vetoed the bill in September 2012, but indicated that he would like to have more time to consider the measure, which has been characterized as, “an implicit invitation for Senator Leno to send the bill back to his desk next year.” http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2012/09/brown-rejects-bill-that-would-have-allowed-a-child-to-have-more-than-two-legal-parents.html.

The primary impetus for three -parent adoptions is application of the legal standard, “the best interests of the child.” There simply are situations where there are more than two adults who are truly being parents to a child in a long-term, consistent fashion. There is a popular statement, most often acknowledged as a proverb in Africa, sometimes also attributed to Native American culture, and popularized in the U.S. by both Ted Kennedy and Hilary Clinton, states, “Sometimes it takes a village to raise a child.” In fact, sometimes it is the concerted effort of more than two fully recognized parents that are foundational to a child’s care and growth. If an adult has consistently behaved like a parent, and, if it’s in the best interests of the child that the relationship has legal protections, it may be appropriate for a court to recognize the legal relationship. A cross-cultural study of multiple parent families might yield some insights into the factors that help this family form work well long-term.

The advent of the three parent adoption is not confined to the United States. Canada, in the 2007 case of A.A. v B.B. (2007), 83 O.R. (3d) 561, decided by the Ontario Court of Appeal, exercising judicial authority under the parens patriae doctrine, found that the child, referred to by initials “D.D.”, should be deemed to have three legal parents. “The Court’s reasoning in A.A. v B.B represents a shift in judicial attitudes regarding the determination of legal parenthood in non-traditional cases,” writes Alison Bird in “Legal Parenthood and the Recognition of Alternative Family Forms in Canada,” 264 UNB LJ 264 (2010).

One can spend considerable time considering variations on the theme of three (and four) parent adoptions, trying to imagine both the questions and answers that would evolve from a variety of “what ifs…” The option for a three or four parent adoption, at its best, affords a child-centered approach that focuses on all the good that a child can receive from sound, well-coordinated, grounded and loving parents. As with any new opportunity, there will always be a case for which reasonable people will later conclude that, for ”that” family, the three or four parent idea was not a good fit. In this moment, the scenarios for which it might be helpful to a child predominate. One can not help but also think backwards in time and wonder how many blended families might have had greater harmony if they had enlarged the circle of those who could be recognized as loving parents rather than having a closed-loop/ownership mentality which meant that for one parent to be recognized, another had to vanish.

It can be anticipated that this broadening of what is legally recognized as family and how we think about the role of parents will expand and, in the proper cases, will include step-parents as well. One can imagine that this may also be a topic for conversation in some infant adoptions. Contemplating three (and four) parent adoptions may increasingly be a part of building a firm family foundation under children’s healthful growth and development in the years ahead.

Marla Allisan, JD,LICSW

The author is the Founder and Director of AAA Full Circle Adoptions & Family Building Center, Inc,
in Northampton and Arlington, MA.

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Redemption of Faith

It started as a conversation about colonoscopies and ended as a family reunion. My friend Lauren was facing the prospect of a medical test and emailed friends, interested to hear the experiences of others. It’s so important to encourage people to take this test; I emailed her, “Give me a call.”  I’d known Lauren casually in a larger circle of friends for about a decade. It was only at this moment that Lauren shared she was nervous about the test because she had no family medical history. “I’m adopted.”  I was surprised this had never come up in conversation as she knew what I did for work. “I don’t really talk about it,” she acknowledged. What I had known is that Lauren had lost members of her family (her sister, mother and father) in a short span of years and had no immediate family left. I hadn’t known that this was her adoptive family.  I immediately offered that, if she wanted to make connections with her birth-family, a member of our staff, Meredith Davies JD, LSW, who is also a genealogist, might be willing to help her in a search. Lauren thought about this and called me back a few weeks later saying she’d like that help.

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The Supreme Court, Gay Marriage and Adoption

The Supreme Court handed down a decision regarding gay marriage and, in the course of the opinion, conveyed information relevant to child welfare. This essay will describe key aspects of the opinion and discuss these as they apply to adoption by parents who have a same gender partner or spouse. The “Cliff Notes” version of the majority opinion in the United States Supreme Court decision United States v Windsor 570 US ___ (2013)[1], might be described in this way: It is the province of the 50 states to make domestic relations decisions. However, where a state has determined that gay marriage is legal, the federal government can’t usurp the state’s role, declare a different definition and disenfranchise a segment of society – in this case, those in same sex married relationships.

The Court did not have before it the question of whether states without gay marriage laws could refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed under the laws of other states (p.2). The court did say that, for Ms. Windsor, who was lawfully married in the state of New York and who sought to inherit from her wife and to have the protection of laws that do not tax bequests from spouses, “her injury (failure to obtain a [tax] refund allegedly required by law) was concrete, persisting, and unrepressed.” The court went to great lengths to detail the significant impact of the law (DOMA) they deemed unconstitutional. The Court determined that, if they didn’t decide the question of the validity of the law, “the costs, uncertainties, and alleged harm and injuries likely would continue for a time measured in years before the issues is resolved.” (p. 11).

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Naming and Adoption: By Any Other Name, S/he Will Be As Sweet!

JULIET:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself. ~Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

Many years ago, we were working with prospective adoptive parents who were initially hesitant about open adoption. Like many adoptive parents who start off having little information about the benefits of open adoption, they quietly wished they could simply bundle a newborn under their arm, like a football, and run off into the sunset.

With education and an opportunity to talk with other families who were experienced with open adoption, their comfort with openness increased. They began to appreciate the meaning of openness for a growing child. They were ultimately chosen by a birth couple who wanted an open adoption (two visits a year) and they also had another request: they had a name in mind for their child that they wanted the adoptive family to keep. The name was important to them as it was a combination of two names – each of the birthparents’ mothers had died early in their lives and this name was a beautiful combination of both their mothers’ names.

When the prospective adoptive family was informed of the biological parents’ interest in them, they also learned of their requests. However, the prospective adoptive parents also had a name in mind for a daughter they would parent. It had personal and poignant significance for them as well. The request was difficult for the adoptive parents to accept. They understandably interpreted this as one more loss due to their history of infertility. “Not only can we not know pregnancy and birth, but, because of infertility, we can’t even name our daughter.” If this was how they continued to hold this request, it would be a hard one to accept and honor. We felt for them as they reflected on whether to accept the gift of being chosen if this condition was attached.

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Contemplating Open Adoption

Most 21-year-olds spend their time wondering what they’re going to do on Saturday night, if they’ll be able to find work in their field of study after college, when their significant other is going to say “I love you.” Most 21-year-olds also haven’t gone through an unexpected pregnancy and adoption. In that regard, I am not like most 21-year-olds. I spent my twenty-first birthday at home, fighting pregnancy-induced acid reflux and trying to get comfortable on the couch – a task that is definitely taken for granted by people who have never been pregnant. My son was born two months later, right on his due date, and I was lucky enough to have the family that the father and I had chosen for him there at the hospital with me. It was one of those things I had flip-flopped about for the entire third trimester, possibly longer: do I want them there with me? The one similar question that had never been a real nail-biter was: how much contact do I want after he’s born? As someone who has always had abandonment issues, I was sure that I would like to be able to at least see pictures afterwards, but when I found out that I could have visits as well, I started to get a little nervous at first. I knew that I would want that, too, but I also knew that my family might not think it was such a great idea. It had taken me a long time to even feel comfortable speaking to my family about the subject, considering the fact that they were having a hard time coping with the fact that I had gotten pregnant in the first place. To make a long story short, I asked Full Circle to write in three visits per year into the post-placement agreement, regardless of what I thought my family and friends might say. I had my fears, to be sure, but since then, I have learned how to deal with them and, in some cases, how to help others deal with them. These are fears that I know I am not alone in feeling, but everyone is different. I hate that age-old saying, “it’s a natural fear.” In my opinion, that’s a patronizing and cliché way of telling you not to worry. Honestly, if you do share any of these feelings, it’s okay. Some people do, and some people don’t, but either way, don’t let them scare you out of doing what you feel is right or in your comfort zone.

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Adoption Education – Learning On Both Sides of the Desk

As a guest lecturer in Professor Grotevant’s adoption class at UMASS/Amherst, I thought to lead the students in an exercise that would give them a sense of the domestic adoption experience. As often happens when one teaches others, I also left class enriched with new insights and thoughts for the future.

I divided up the class into roughly two groups – one group was to be ‘the expectant parents’ (EPS) and the other group was to be ‘the prospective adoptive parents’ (PAPs). My instructions to each group went like this – “The expectant mother is due in one week, she and the biological father would like to make an adoption plan and they’ve had several months of expectant parent counseling. We need to clarify terms regarding post placement communication.”

To the EP group – “Appoint a spokesperson and after you’ve deliberated, let me know what you want for post placement communication in the days ahead. Specifically – do you have any request that the adopters keep a chosen name? What do you want in terms of number of in-person visits per year? What do you want by way of frequency of photo/letter updates?”

I asked the same general question of the PAPs except I asked them to clarify what was the most they imagined they’d be willing to give and to let me know if any request would be a deal breaker – in other words, could they imagine requests that would lead them to decline to be the chosen adoptive family.

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Storying Your “Wait” in the Adoption Process

One’s faith is surely tested in the process of adoption. Whether waiting for an international referral, or, waiting, for the expectant parents to choose the adopter(s), in the context of domestic adoption, the wait can feel interminable. Each minute seems like an hour and each month feels like an eternity.

Over the past 22 years in the adoption field, I’ve seen some patterns worth articulating in case they can help ease the pain for some prospective adoptive parents. I’ve noticed that, how one ‘stories’ one’s experience of “why” can deeply affect one’s experience in adoption. Families may have a story running silently in their minds about “why” they may have had infertility or “why” they’re adopting or why there is a waiting period that ticks like a loud clock. Your personal story about ‘why’ can affect how you feel about the wait, regardless of how long the wait really is.

I first became aware of this pattern when clients, during an orientation, presented themselves in the following way. “We are your one percent family,” they stated.

“How so?” I asked.

The wife explained, “One percent of people have our kind of infertility. One percent of people with our infertility are encouraged to have a certain kind of infertility treatment. And for one percent of those people, the treatment doesn’t work. We were that one percent.” Read more

In the Context of Adoption, What Does It Mean To Live in An “Agency State”?

Prospective adopters, researching on the web, learn that there are a number of types of adoption professionals. [1] Since so many states allow facilitators to match and allow attorneys to handle adoptive placements, and Massachusetts does not, a discerning adopter begins to have questions about what it means for their adoption process to be living in an, “agency state.” A few states (e.g. Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware and Massachusetts) are “agency states.” Within each state, there are variations on the meaning of this term. With respect to the state of Massachusetts,[2] there are seven key questions to consider:

Q. 1 . Who can complete or facilitate an adoption placement in Massachusetts?

A. Unlike most other states in the country, in Massachusetts, private adoptions are prohibited, and attorneys are not allowed to arrange placement of children, although they can assist families with legal consultation and finalization. In Massachusetts, only licensed child placing agencies, such as the Department of Children and Families or private agencies incorporated and licensed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, are permitted to place or facilitate placement a child for adoption. There are exceptions, e.g. with respect to relatives, and, thus, it is appropriate to consult with a Massachusetts agency as to the applicability of their services and to request a legal opinion from your attorney for specific situations.[3]

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