Same-Sex Adoption in Georgia: An Overview


How Recent Supreme Court Same-Sex Adoption Decision Affects Georgians


by J. Ashley Sawyer of Hedgepeth, Heredia & RIeder



Until the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding same sex marriage, a partner in a same sex relationship who wanted to adopt his or her partner’s child in Georgia had only one option – a second parent adoption.

The term “second parent adoption” is a blend of code sections governing third party and step-parent adoption, and allows same-sex couples to adopt their partner’s biological or legal children without wholly terminating the first parent’s parental rights. It protects both parents by giving both of them legally recognized parental status.

In this kind of adoption, the child’s legal parent consents to the child being adopted by his or her partner, similar to a step-parent adoption. This process is typically done to keep same-sex families that are already in existence intact and to create legal bonds between a child and person who is already effectively acting as a parent.

In March 2016 I was asked by WABE's "Closer Look" program to discuss the ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on an Alabama same-sex adoption case. My client Jessica Johnson and her partner Jina participated in the interview with me (you can hear the whole interview at the video link below). 

There were (and still are) several counties in Georgia that would not necessarily approve of a second parent adoption for same-sex couples. In denying the adoption, the Court would generally state that to do otherwise “would be contrary to the child’s best interest.” Fortunately, this trend has subsided over time with society’s greater acceptance of the same sex community. 

An Alabama Supreme Court recently challenged a second parent adoption issued by a Georgia Court. The facts of the case were this: a lesbian couple, one the birth mother, had three children together. They completed a second parent adoption in Georgia and both women were named the legal parents of the children. The women moved to Alabama and several years later broke up. In a subsequent custody proceeding, the birth mother contended that the second parent adoption was invalid and that the adoptive mother other had no legal rights to the children.

The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with the biological mother, finding that the Georgia Court had misinterpreted its own state’s laws. The ruling was surprising due to the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, which requires that states respect court judgments, including adoption orders, issued by courts in other states.

The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In March 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision to reverse the Alabama ruling and uphold the same sex adoption issued in Georgia. In simple terms, the Supreme Court found that states must honor same sex adoptions granted in other states. I discuss this case and the ramifications in greater detail in the WABE interview linked below.

Now that same-sex marriage is legal and same sex couples can adopt under the step-parent adoption statute, it is unclear whether Courts will continue to be as willing to grant second parent adoptions to unmarried same sex couples as they once were. As second parent adoptions in neighboring states have been under attack, as was the case in Alabama, judges are recommending that any same-sex couples who completed a second parent adoption in Georgia and have now married, also complete a step-parent adoption to further solidify the adoption and provide even further security to the family. 


Below: On the air at WABE with client Jessica Johnson and her partner Jina to discuss adoption issues for same-sex couples in Georgia. Click the link below to hear the interview. We'll have more on their adoption tale next month.