By Desi Rubio, Feb. 26, 2015.
Arizona’s 2014 marriage equality ruling propelled countless same-sex couples to the courts to legalize their relationships.
And, as the saying goes, “then comes baby in a baby carriage.” However, there are still many unanswered questions regarding the legal protections for other aspects in a newly married couple’s life when it comes to building a family.
For some couples, parenthood came long before marriage equality. For others, they’ve put the idea of family on hold fearing unequal parental rights of the child.
Regardless of the scenario specifics, Oct. 17, 2014, marked a shift that left same-sex parent and parents-to-be asking, “what does this mean for our family?”
While no two families within our diverse community, we’ve compiled resources that address adoption and foster care to start the conversation.
The Adoption Option
According to Valley agency Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK), the number of children entering Arizona’s Department of Child Safety has doubled over the past 10 years.
This growing number underscores the option of considering adoption in the planning of their family, even for same-sex couples.
“There are 16,000 children in foster care here in Maricopa County, and half of that 16,000 number are children under the age of five,” said Marcia Reck, Child Crisis Center’s Adoption & Foster Care Services director. “Kids are spending the night in their case workers offices and they’re constantly being shuffled between homes and shelters, so the need is high.”
Potential parents can either choose to foster a child, providing a temporary home with the goal to reunite the child with the biological family, or adopt, providing a permanent family and home for the child.
Prior to the marriage equality ruling, adoption agencies throughout the Valley were already in support of placing children in a same-sex parental household however; there are still some legal nuances.
According to Russ Funk, director of marketing and recruitment for Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK), the variance in adoption scenarios can be influenced by many factors.
“Our whole focus is finding that family relationship with that child and that doesn’t necessarily depend on anybody’s sexual orientation,” Funk said. “Families can come in all shapes, sizes and make-ups, at the end of the day we just want what is best for the child.”
The duration of the adoption process can depend on how quickly the paperwork is submitted as well as the age, gender, race and other details of the child desired.
The Letter of the Law
The legal stipulations around adoption do not stem from acceptance or possible placements, they stem from one particular statute in the Arizona Legislature. Arizona State Legislature, statue 8-103 states:
[A. Any adult resident of the state, whether married, unmarried or legally separated is eligible to qualify to adopt children. A husband and wife may jointly adopt children.]
The good news is any resident can adopt; the bad news is only a husband and wife may jointly adopt.
There’s the snag. For married same-sex couples, it may be difficult to execute the “husband-wife” clause. So, on the contrary, one partner may get licensed to adopt however, the chance for both partners to adopt at the same time still presents a challenge.
“It all depends on the judge who will preside over the adoption,” said attorney Lon Taubman of Taubman & Associates. “If the judge is someone who will not be concerned with the term ‘husband and wife’ then the commissioner will allow the adoption to go through.”
Another issue attorneys commonly observe regarding same-sex adoption in Arizona occurs during the finalization of the adoption process. In Maricopa County, birth certificates still read “mother and father.”
Since marriage equality is still so new in Arizona, city officials would need to assess a model state for equal rights, such as California, to make appropriate adjustments to all applicable documents.
As for the couples that were co-parenting prior before their marriage was legally recognized, and are now seeking second-parent adoption, there is another option.
“Although the state is making changes because of the recent marriage equality law, in the past, if only one spouse decided to adopt, and once they became legally married, the other spouse would try to do a ‘step-parent marriage,’” Reck explained. “They would simply need to hire an attorney, and technically, this process should apply to same-sex couples as well.
While Arizona’s trajectory is headed in the right direction, there is still some lag time between marriage equality and all the benefits that are widely understood to accompany it.
10 Steps to Adoption
Attend one of the orientations held by Kids Consortium. These orientations are necessary and represent all the agencies in Maricopa County. They give potential parents the opportunity to ask all questions. Potential parents will also research which agency would best fit their situation. Remember: Not all agencies will work with same-sex couples.
Submit paperwork. Every document needs to be furnished, completed and submitted to the chosen agency.
The agency will conduct a home study. The study will be 25 to 30 pages long and will describe every detail about the home and the family living in it.
Potential parents must attend 36 hours of training that will educate parents about behavioral management skills, cultural connections and grieving issues, and help the parents assess what type of child would best fit their home.
Complete a criminal background check and medical references.
The home study and other documents will be submitted to the courts for certification. The courts may turn these around in as few as 30 days.
The selection process will begin. Each child is assigned a caseworker from the Department of Child Safety (previously known as CPS). They will serve as guardians, mediators and messengers for the child until the adoption is finalized. The caseworkers will play a large role in deciding which family will best fit that child’s needs and vice versa.
Once the child is selected, he, she or they (sibling groups are encouraged) will be placed the new home for a six-month period prior to finalization. During those six months, case managers and agency staff members will be in the home checking and supporting the family.
After the six-month period, the adoption becomes finalized.
The new adoptive parent(s) will receive the same rights as if they were the birth parents. The child will be issued a new birth certificate listing the name of their new parent(s).
Source: Russ Funk, director of marketing and recruitment for Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK).
Adoption: Myths vs. Facts
If you’re considering adoption, don’t let outdated information or common misconceptions influence your decision-making process.
Here are six adoption myths – and corresponding facts – your should know.
Myth: It is expensive to adopt a child.
Fact: Not at all. Once biological parental rights are severed, and the child becomes a warrant of the state, they are placed with the Department of Child Safety and assigned a case manager. Adoption through Maricopa County’s DCS is absolutely free. There is however an $800 home study fee during the adoption process, however, once the adoption is finalized; the money is refunded back to the adoptive family.
Myth: My partner and I need to make a very good combined salary.
Fact: Parent(s) only need to make enough to cover the household expenses and have a disposable income at the end of each month. Also, some of the children, based on age and/or medical circumstances will receive subsidies until they are age 18.
Myth: I need to be married to adopt a child.
Fact: You do not. Any married, unmarried, or legally separated person can adopt.
Myth: The child will have major behavioral issues.
Fact: Not always. According to Funk, all of the children will experience feelings of abandonment and loss because they are no longer with their biological family. However, there are many services and programs the adoptive family can utilize to address any emotional or behavioral needs.
Myth: We should not trust the biological parents.
Fact: Not true. Reck explained that parents who have had their parental rights severed are often victims themselves. Some of them may have grown up in the foster care system themselves or experienced hardships that may have been out of their control.
Sources: Marcia Reck, Child Crisis Center’s adoption and foster care services director; attorney Lon Taubman of Taubman & Associates; and Russ Funk, director of marketing & recruitment for Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK).
Agencies that Support Same-Sex Adoption and Foster Care
A New Leaf
A Place to Call Home
Aid to Adoption for Special Kids (AASK)
Arizona Adoption and Foster Care (AAFC)
Arizona's Children Association (AzCA)
Casey Family Programs (CFP)
Community Provider of Enrichment Services (CPES)
Crisis Nursery, Inc. (Phoenix)
Family Support Resources
Human Resource Training
Southwest Human Development (ICPC Only)
West Valley Child Crisis Center