Court Rules Same-Sex Adoption Void
Special Report - December 21, 2010
On December 20, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s adoption of her lesbian partner’s biological child is not allowed under state law and therefore void. The case, Boseman v. Jarrell, involved a custody dispute between State Senator Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover) and Melissa Jarrell, over Jarrell’s six-year old son, who was conceived through artificial insemination in 2002. Later, the women requested an adoption from a Durham County District Court to make the non-biological parent, Boseman, “an adoptive parent of the minor child while not also terminating [Jarrell’s, the biological mother’s,] relationship with the child.” They asked the court to not comply with two statutory requirements for adoptions in North Carolina. The first requirement is that a biological parent’s consent to an adoption decree terminates his or her parental rights. The second requirement is “that an adoption decree ‘severs the relationship of parent and child between the individual adopted and that individual’s biological or previous adoptive parents.’” The adoption as granted by the Durham court “was contingent on the non-enforcement of these statutory provisions.”
According to the Supreme Court decision, because such an adoption decree could not be indexed by the Division of Social Services, “the adoption court instructed the clerk ‘not … to comply with’ a statutory requirement that the clerk of court transmit a copy of the adoption decree to the Division.” Instead the clerk was ordered to “securely maintain this file in the clerk’s office.” Justice Paul Newby, who wrote the majority opinion in the 52 decision, stated, “Because the General Assembly did not vest our courts with subject matter jurisdiction to create the type of adoption attempted here, we hold that the adoption decree at issue is void ab initio.”
According to the Supreme Court decision, North Carolina’s law only allows for three types of adoptions of a minor child:
- A direct placement adoption, which effects a “complete substitution of families,” in which a parent or guardian selects the adoptive parent and consents to the adoption “acknowledging that the adoption will terminate the child’s relationship with the parent.”
- An agency placement adoption wherein an agency acquires “legal and physical custody of a minor for purposes of adoptive placement” through relinquishment or by court order that terminates the rights of the parent or guardian.
- A stepparent adoption requiring the consent of the child’s parents and guardians as well as the minor, if aged twelve or older, in order for the “the spouse of a parent of a child, but who is not a legal parent of the child” to adopt him or her.
Because the Durham district court tried to create an adoption other than one of the three laid out in the law, the Supreme Court found the adoption decree to be void, stating that “[t]his Court has the responsibility to ensure that the law is applied uniformly in all our counties.” The decision concluded, “[b]ecause the adoption decree is void, [Boseman] is not legally recognized as the minor child’s parent.”
However, in this particular case, there was a secondary question regarding custody of the child in light of his having been primarily raised by both Jarrell and Boseman. Regarding Jarrell’s request that she be granted sole custody, the Supreme Court concluded “that by intentionally creating a family unit in which defendant [Jarrell] permanently shared parental responsibilities with plaintiff [Boseman], defendant acted inconsistently with her paramount parental status. Thus, the District Court, New Hanover County, (“the trial court”) did not err by utilizing the “best interest of the child” standard to make its custody award. As such, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision that the adoption decree is valid and affirm as modified its conclusion leaving undisturbed the trial court’s decision that the parties are entitled to joint custody of the child.” The decision went on to explain that under North Carolina case law, “when a parent brings a nonparent into the family unit, represents that the nonparent is a parent, and voluntarily gives custody of the child to the nonparent without creating an expectation that the relationship would be terminated, the parent has acted inconsistently with her paramount parental status.” Such actions, according to the Court, validate the lower court decision to issue joint custody as a determined to be in the best interest of a child who had bonded with both women as his mothers.
Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson and Justice Robin Hudson dissented from the majority, arguing the finality of adoption decrees and contending that adoptions cannot be challenged outside of narrow exceptions that were not met in this case.
The North Carolina Family Policy Council joined the American College of Pediatricians, Christian Action League of North Carolina, NC4Marriage, and Christian Family Law Association in a friend-of-the court brief supporting Melissa Jarrell’s appeal to the Supreme Court. In the brief, they asked the Court to rule that North Carolina adoption statutes do not allow adoptions by same-sex partners. They also asked the Court to end the practice of allowing unrelated third parties to obtain custodial rights of minor children merely because the child’s parent has allowed the third party to establish a relationship with the child.
Louisiana Same-Sex Adoption Case - October 11, 2010
Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Adoption Case - September 9, 2010
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