The case begins with a familiar if sad scenario. Julie Boseman and Melissa Jarrell, a lesbian couple, decided to raise a child together. Jarrell became pregnant via insemination with sperm from an anonymous provider. Their son, Jacob, was born in October, 2002.
Jarrell and Boseman lived together with Jacob until 2006, at which point they separated. There’s no doubt that each of the women acted as Jacob’s mother before their separation, sharing the responsibilities and obligations of parenting. Nevertheless, when they split up Jarrell limited Boseman’s time with Jacob. (Should it be important to you, I’ll note that Boseman paid child support though there was no legal order directing her to do so.)
This far the case resembles a string of others I’ve blogged about where lesbian co-mothers end up in bitter litigation. But there is a very important additional factor here: Jarrell and Boseman recognized that after Jacob’s birth Jarrell had legal rights as a parent while Boseman did not. In order to secure Boseman’s rights, the two women went to court in 2005 and requested that Boseman be recognized as an adoptive parent of Jacob. The court complied with this request.
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Anyway, the women completed a second-parent adoption, which meant that both women had full legal rights as parents of Jacob. With the adoption in place, when the women split up, you end up with an ordinary custody fight between parents. That’s never a good thing, but it’s a familiar one–the result generally turns on a court’s assessment of the best interests of the child. . . .
[But here} the NC Supreme Court ruled that the adoption was void ab initio. That means it is as if it were never concluded.
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Generally speaking you cannot challenge an adoption several years after it has been completed. (This is clearly the case in NC–check out the first lines of the dissenting opinion–page 24.) There are good and obvious reasons for this. Once an adoption is completed (here with the complete consent and participation of the first parent), the child’s life is structured around that legal fact. To allow someone to undo it several years later is to completely disrupt the child’s world.
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The North Carolina court’s opinion doesn’t just apply to Jacob. It applies to all the other second-parent adoptions that have been conducted there–or so it would appear. All the second-parent adoption completed in NC, even those where the two parents are perfectly happy raising their kids in a unitary family, are void. With the stroke of the pen, the NC court deprived all those families of the legal security that the adoptions provided.
What do you think?