Parenting is expensive. Parenting while LGBTQ+ is more so. While state and federal regulations have come a long way closer to supporting non-traditional families, there are still a barrage of financial and logistical hoops to clear in order to establish full parental rights. This article outlines the process of DIY-ing your second-parent adoption in Tompkins County, NY.
I don’t know about you, but the prospect of walking into the Courthouse to fill out a mountain of tax-form-esque papers fills me with apprehension. On the flipside, shelling out $1,800–3,000* for an attorney to do the work also gives me pause. If you have the mental energy and time to pursue an adoption on your own, you can save some serious bucks. It’s intimidating and obnoxious, but it is doable. To reassure you further, you can’t “mess up” the adoption. The adoption will only proceed if all forms are properly filled out and all procedures done appropriately; once completed, the adoption is 100% final.
In brief, here are the steps:
- Acquire baby (the baby has to be out of the womb before you can start the process)
- Go to the Surrogate Court of Tompkins County, in the basement of 320 N Tioga St. in downtown Ithaca and pick up the mountain of papers.
- Talk to the clerk and get their name so you can call easily with questions.
- For a known-donor, complete the forms to terminate their parental rights/responsibilities.
- Fingerprinting ($25/person) and background checks
- Probation office interview
- Probation office home visit
- Court date to wrap it up
One thing that helped me keep my cool about the invasiveness of the process was understanding that the paperwork is designed to encompass any situation in which a person is adopting a child. Hopefully, within the next 10 years, our courts will pull second-parent adoptions for LGBTQ+ couples out of this procedure and give them their own streamlined mechanism.
Ready to take the plunge?
Read below for extended descriptions of each step. Keep in mind that some details may vary depending on your specific journey to parenthood.
While it can be frustrating to have to go through this process as a same-sex couple, it is the only way of 100% safeguarding your parental rights as the non-gestational/non-genetic parent.
Adoptions in Tompkins county are processed through the Surrogate Court of Tompkins County, whose office is located in the basement of the court house at 320 N Tioga St. in downtown Ithaca. If you plan to apply for a second-parent adoption yourself, without the aid of an attorney, I recommend that you go to the office in person and speak directly with the clerk who processes all of the adoptions. Call ahead because the clerk you need may not work regular 9-5 M-F hours. When you go to the office and speak to the clerk, tell them you are looking to do a second-parent adoption without an attorney, and they will hand you the mountain of papers. It is helpful if you can then give them any particulars of your situation (known donor or sperm bank, marital status, etc.) and ask them to walk you through which of the forms you will need based on your particular situation, as the packet will likely include some forms that may not apply to you. Post-it notes are your friend here! Take your time going through the paperwork while you are there so you understand exactly what information you need.
The forms ask for a considerable amount of information regarding income, religious preferences, medical history, hobbies, references, etc. so you should plan to take the forms home and spend several days gathering all of the necessary information and filling them out. If you need any additional copies of the forms, they can be downloaded online here: http://ww2.nycourts.gov/forms/surrogates/adoption.shtml
Heads up: Portions of the paperwork will have you list the “birth parent” also as an “adoptive parent”.
If you do have a known donor, you will also need similar information on the donor, if available. In addition, the donor will need to relinquish their parental rights, which can be done either in person before a judge or remotely by signing some additional forms before a notary.
Review the paperwork with the same clerk before you submit it because something is probably missing.
After a few weeks, you should get a case number (you may have to call if you do not receive this) that will allow you to make an appointment to get fingerprinted. All members of the household over 18 years old must be fingerprinted at a center that does electronic fingerprint scans. There are very few locations for this in Tompkins county, and the Surrogate Court should give you a list of available locations. Because your fingerprinting is for an adoption, you should receive a substantial discount on this (as of 2017, it cost $25/person).
After the paperwork and fingerprinting, it is a waiting game of a few months for the court to review everything and run background checks.
The Probation office handles the in-person interview and home visit and they will call you to set up appointments. For the interview, both parents go to the interviewer’s office and answer questions that basically verify the information on their application. The interviewer also calls the references provided on the adoption paperwork. Finally, the interviewer will make an appointment to come for a home visit. In our experience, this was very brief (<5 mins) and was basically to verify that the address listed was accurate.
From this point, expect to wait another month or so for the court date to be set. On the day of court, you may invite family/friends to come with you if you’d like. The court appearance is usually very brief and mostly perfunctory, as once you reach this point, they have verified that everything is complete and approved in your application. The judge will ask you again to verify that the information in your application is accurate and then will sign the adoption order. You may take pictures if you’d like. If you’re very on-top of the whole process, it will take about 6 months from handing in your paperwork to being finalized in court.
*Price range for attorney fees for known-donor adoptions for actual second-parent adoptions in Tompkins County as of 2018. Cheaper rates mean slower progress, approximately 1 year versus 6 months. If you are interested in financial assistance to pursue the 2nd parent adoption with an attorney, Cornell Law School Advocacy for LGBT Communities Clinic offers services to those who qualify.
If you’re curious about following someone who is working to reclaim “second parent” in a positive light, check out www.second-parent.com.