Adopting a child is considered a joyous occasion, despite the hurdles that many couples face over the course of the adoption process. For same sex couples seeking to adopt in South Carolina, those hurdles can seem even more daunting. While adoption has been recognized as a legal process for adding children (and often, adults) as a legal part of a family unit for many years, same sex adoptive parents have not always been recognized or afforded the same remedy.
In recent years, same sex adoptions have become more formally recognized, although there is still progress yet to be made. Legal processes and relevant legal forms are still in the preliminary stages of recognizing the changes to the law and same sex adoptions. Regardless of formalities, if you are in a same sex relationship and want to formally adopt children in South Carolina, here are some things you should know:
- Some legal forms still include titles such as “mother” and “father” instead of a generic identification such as “parent.” While these titles may not be reflective of the titles used at home, they do not prevent same sex couples from using these forms. Same sex couples should not let it deter them from following through with the adoption process as soon as possible to ensure their families and children are legally recognized and protected.
- Same sex adoptions bestow the same rights on parents/partners and children as any other adoption. At the conclusion of the adoption process, the child will be legally adjudicated as your child and you as their parent. Being a parent brings legal responsibilities and liabilities for children that are yours, including financial responsibilities, decision making responsibilities, proper health, education, and other required necessities and making sure those needs are met. While you may not have given birth to the child, birth parents and adoptive parents have the same rights and responsibilities.
- Sperm/egg donors still play a part in the process, although it may be nothing more than formalities. If you are conceiving a child having used an egg donor or sperm donor, most medical clinics have releases and waivers that are executed by the donor at time of donation wherein the donor releases parental rights to any child conceived from their donation and releases all rights for information concerning that child at any later proceeding. Be sure to thoroughly review those waivers and releases. South Carolina courts still require that a birth parent’s rights be terminated to allow another person to adopt a child as a parent, unless the birth parent is deceased or there is some other legal exception. As such, the sperm/egg donor’s parental rights must be terminated and adjudicated by a Court prior to, or simultaneously with, an adoption decree. Therefore, it is important for families to work with an experienced attorney to help them navigate the adoption process.
- In South Carolina, the person being adopted (the adoptee) will be appointed a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent their legal interests. This is a safety precaution and is required by the Courts and South Carolina law. The GAL is responsible for investigating the life of the adoptee, the resources and understanding of the adoption by the adoptive parent/parents, and to determine whether the adoption serves the best interest of the person being adopted. The Courts want to make sure, to the best of their ability, that the adoption serves the best interest in all aspects of the adoptee’s life. The investigation by the GAL can include a visit to your home, the adoptee’s school, interviews with family and friends, employers, and a review of your social, financial, criminal, and other background information. Be prepared and know what to expect—the more information you can gather up front and provide as soon as the GAL has been selected, the faster the GAL’s investigation and recommendations can be completed. An attorney can help families gather relevant information, prepare for their meetings with a GAL, determine who the best collaborative contacts will be and prepare the documentation needed for the final hearing. At that hearing, with the right information and reporting, the Court can complete the adoption.
- Adoptive parents will be required to appear in Court. During a pandemic period, court procedures and processes may change. While appearing in Court previously required adoptive parents to appear before the Judge during the hearing, COVID has taught us that we can be flexible and still accomplish legal work too. Today, many Court hearings may still require parties to appear in person in the courthouse, or they could require them to appear virtually through an online hearing with the Judge to finalize the adoption. No matter how the Court instructs you to attend the hearing, just know that at the end of the day, your adoption is worth it regardless of whether it is finalized in person or online.
While family law attorneys spend long days, weeks and months in custody battles and representing parents through some of the toughest days, some family law attorneys dedicate an equal amount of time in guiding clients through the adoption process. There is a special joy in helping parents and children become a “family” unit, watching the smiles and happy tears as they embrace a new member of their family.
An experienced family law attorney can help navigate the adoption process from beginning to end. If you are considering adoption, it is never too early to start preparing. Our attorneys are here and ready to help as you embark on a new adventure for your family.