In many states, but not all, unmarried couples have the same legal rights as married couples when it comes to adoption. There is some anecdotal evidence that adoption agencies prefer married couples because marriage indicates a higher degree of stability in the home. Even when marriage is not a legal requirement for adoption, unmarried couples should be prepared to face a potentially more rigorous screening and approval process.

What is the Process for Unmarried Adoption?

Unmarried adoption is also called second parent adoption. Single parents can legally adopt anywhere. Often, unmarried couples will adopt a child by simply having one of the parents go through the legal adoption process. If second parent adoption is not an option in your state, you can consider a co-parenting agreement, a custody agreement, or both. A co-parenting agreement specifies rights and responsibilities for issues such as inheritance, medical care, and financial care of the child. A custody agreement can include specific provisions for childcare arrangements in case the couple breaks up.

This kind of agreement is useful to present to a judge in petitioning for second parent adoption. The agreement should include details on conflict resolution, plans in case either parent decides to move, plans for meeting medical and educational needs of the child, and where the child will live. The second parent looking for adoption rights should keep a record of all contact with the child and expenses paid for the child as evidence to prove parenting activity to the judge. The courts will want to see both proof of a long-term emotional bond as well as proof of sustained financial and material support.

If an adult has brought a child into his or her home and provided for the child, courts may recognize this as an equitable adoption.

Can Gay and Lesbian Couples Adopt?

Gay and lesbian couples who are legally married or in an official civil union can petition for adoption in all fifty states. However, the odds of being granted permission to adopt are different depending on which state the petition is filed.

Nebraska and Missouri are known to be in non-compliance with federal guidelines making it legally permissible for gay and lesbian couples to adopt.

Arizona, Michigan, Montana, and Virginia have non-discrimination policies specifically covering sexual orientation.

New York, California, Washington, Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island also allow discriminating against an individual based on gender identity during consideration for adoption and co-parenting.

Do Unmarried Couples Need a Lawyer to Adopt?

Since the laws on unmarried couple adoption change frequently and vary widely from state to state, it is best for an unmarried couple, whether or not they are gay or transgender, to consult an adoption lawyer regarding the most recent legislation and case law on this issue in their own state. An attorney can inform you of your legal rights and help devise the best case for securing a safe and legal adoption in your state.