Although courts have gone to great lengths to provide every child with one mother and one father, the realities of family formation and parenting are considerably more complex. Just a few years ago, most children grew up in a “traditional” or “nuclear” family, which refers to the conjugal household consisting of a husband, a wife, and their dependent children, whose relationships are traditionally recognized by family law. Today, fewer and fewer households are deemed “traditional” families. Societal changes have brought about the rise of “alternative” or “non-traditional” families which include group living, unmarried cohabitation and single-parent families, all of which are mutually interdependent households, but not, historically, so recognized by family law.
Although these arrangements – specifically same-sex couples – appear to be distinct from the traditional family, they often embody and preserve the many values and functions of the traditional family, including support, loyalty, values, welfare, love and affection. Furthermore, many committed same-sex couples have and raise children. Nevertheless, for those living in these alternative arrangements, the law has not kept pace with these social evolutions. Moreover, in order for these individuals to assert any legal rights based on a family relationship, such as health insurance and inheritance benefits, they must first be acknowledged as a family member. Unfortunately, however, the law has made it overwhelmingly difficult for both male and female same-sex couples to be recognized as having a “family” relationship with concomitant legal rights and duties.
The most permanent, binding way of becoming a non-biological parent is by adoption. Adoption is the legal proceeding, which establishes the legal relationship of parent and child between persons not already so related. Blood ties between adopter and adoptee are unnecessary. The adopted child is entitled to all privileges belonging to a natural child of the adoptive parents including the right to inherit, while the parent incurs the responsibilities of a parent with respect to the adopted person. In addition, as part of the process, the biological parents’ rights and responsibilities are terminated.
As a general rule, either a married or unmarried person may undertake adoption and the requirements are generally the same in either case. In the former, however, its required either that the petition be made jointly or be consented to by the other spouse.
The two basic requirements for someone trying to adopt are age and residence. The most commonly encountered age requirement is that the adopting parent be at least 21 years of age. Many statutes merely specify “any adult” or “any person of lawful age,” but the usual effect of this provision is as just stated.