Archive for the 'Current Events' Category

What Will Happen to Gay Marriage Under the Trump Administration? No One Knows.

One of the most common post-election questions that I get is from same-sex couples. “What will happen to my family now that Donald Trump is in office?” They want to know if they need a second-parent adoption or other legal means to protect their families. Although I hate not being able to give people an answer, the only honest answer to this question is, “no one knows yet.”

In January 2016, Trump said in an interview on Fox News that he would “strongly consider” appointing justices that would overturn the case that effectively legalized gay marriage ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges). Specifically, he said “If I’m elected, I would be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things,” in reference to gay marriage.

However, in November 2016, Trump said this in an interview with Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes:”

LESLEY STAHL: Do you support marriage equality?

TRUMP: It — it’s irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.

STAHL: So even if you appoint a judge that —

TRUMP: It’s done. It — you have — these cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And, I’m fine with that.

We all know that actions speak louder than words, but in this case Trump’s only action that relates to the issue is also hard to interpret. His U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, also has a mixed history when it comes to gay rights. According to Time, Gorsuch took the position in his dissertation for his Doctorate of Philosophy at Oxford University that the Constitution does not protect the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

On the other hand, the Huffington Post reports that Gorsuch was supportive of and even effusive about his clerk’s same-sex marriage.

Goodbaum, now an attorney in Connecticut, recalled fondly their conversation on the week of the wedding: “He said, ‘This is a wonderful thing. You’ll see how your relationship grows.’”

Goodbaum, who in 2009 served as a clerk for the Colorado federal appeals court judge, added: “I have never felt the least whiff from him of homophobia or intolerance toward gay people.”

Still, it is a judge’s job to apply the law as written, not to interpret through the lens of personal beliefs or politics. The short answer is: No one knows.

Generally speaking, the law in Virginia, where I practice, is that a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the child of those two married people. Also generally speaking, changes to the law are not retroactive. However, to my way of thinking, a lot of things have happened since Trump took office that I would not have believed before he took office. It would seem logical that the courts would reject a second-parent adoption from a married same-sex couple just the way it would if a married father tried to adopt his own children. However, I have filed such adoptions for clients with a “better to be safe than sorry” outlook, and had them approved.

I advise same-sex couples who ask me to consult with an attorney if they are feeling worried about the status of their families. Many attorneys (including myself) are doing such consultations for free or at reduced rates. If you need a consultation or a referral to an LGBT-friendly attorney in your area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Adopted Children at the Holidays

Every year around the holidays, I like to revisit this post that I originally wrote in 2010, to remind adoptive families and those who love them that the holidays can be a hard time for adopted children, and offering suggestions about how to make it easier. I hope you find this helpful during this season. Here is the link: Adopted Children and the Holidays.

While we are at it, let’s not forget birth parents, who often feel that a piece of their hearts is missing during this season. If you have an ongoing relationship with your child’s birth mother and/or other biological family members, don’t forget to let them know you’re thinking about them this season.

I wish each of you all the joy, warmth, and love your hearts can hold this holiday.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

First comes love, then comes marriage…what’s next for Virginia same-sex couples?

What a week for Virginia law! On Monday (October 6), the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the 4th Circuit’s decision holding that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, thus leaving that decision in place. To make a long story short, same-sex marriage is now legal and recognized in Virginia.

On October 10th, Governor Terry McAuliffe wrote a memorandum to Virginia Departments of Social Services, instructing them that married same-sex couples should now be considered in the same way as heterosexual married couples for the purposes of adoption and foster parenting. “Any married couple is a married couple for purposes of adoptive placements in accordance with Virginia Code § 63.2-1225,” the governor wrote, citing the Virginia adoption statute.

This change has huge implications for married same-sex couples in Virginia. Although we have yet to see how it will play out in the early cases, it seems clear that married same-sex couples should now be able to adopt a child exactly the same way that a heterosexual couple would, including stepparent adoptions, adoptions from foster care, and agency adoptions.

The change also leaves many things unclear. Since same-sex marriage is now recognized in Virginia, it’s logical that any child that a same-sex couple had together through artificial insemination or surrogacy would now be recognized as the legal child of both partners, with no need for a “second-parent adoption” or guardianship. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a lawyer, it’s not to assume that people will do what is logical. It will be very interesting to see how that issue unfolds.

It is also unclear whether this change leaves privately-owned adoption agencies free to discriminate against same-sex couples. It is clear that the Virginia Department of Social Services, which does adoptions from foster care, may not do so. Since all adoption agencies must be licensed by the state to operate, must they also follow this law? Or these agencies, most of which are religiously affiliated, be exempt on religious grounds?

If you have questions about how these exciting changes will impact your family, contact us today. I would be more than happy to sit down with you and discuss how to choose the best course for your family.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Free Adoption Seminar in Northern Virginia

It’s that time of year again! To kick off National Adoption Month, The Vaughan Firm is holding a free adoption seminar on Saturday, November 2 at 10:00 a.m. in downtown Leesburg, Virginia. If you live in Northern Virginia, this is the perfect opportunity to learn about adoption from start to finish and get your questions answered. We always talk about how to choose the right adoption type for your family, how to get started with the process, the timing and cost of adoption, and much more. In addition to an adoption lawyer (my charming self), guest speakers will also include a birth mother and a consultant on making a compelling adoptive family profile. For more information and to register, go to the seminar registration page. Hope to see you there!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

The Baby Veronica Case: Call It Anything, But Not a Win

In the entirely justified celebrations that have followed the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, another, less well-known case has gotten lost in the shuffle.

On Monday, the Supreme Court held that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not apply to a case where a part-Cherokee child’s biological father never had custody of her, and no Cherokee relatives stepped forward to adopt her before she was adopted by a family with no Cherokee heritage.

The birth father, Dusten Brown, is a member of the Cherokee Nation under that tribe’s rules regarding who can be a member. The birth mother, Christy Maldonado, is not Native American. Maldonado got pregnant while engaged to Brown, but the couple broke up. Brown did not support Maldonado financially during her pregnancy, and the two had an exchange of text messages (before the baby was born) in which he said that he would consent to the adoption. When he was notified that adoption proceedings were pending, he signed a consent before meeting with a lawyer. Once he had met with a lawyer the next day, he immediately attempted to revoke his consent, oppose the adoption, and gain custody of the child.

A few things jumped out at me about this case. I have always thought that ICWA as applied to private adoption is a terrible idea. The statute was designed to prevent abuses (very serious ones, and still ongoing from what I understand) where the state was removing Native American children from their homes and placing them in foster care when no abuse or neglect had taken place. A huge, disproportionate number of Native American children were removed this way, and in the 1970′s it was egregious enough that they passed a Federal law to try to prevent it. The explicit purpose of the statute is to prevent children from being removed from their families against the will of the parents and without sufficient cause. I personally (and there are many who disagree with me) don’t see how the purposes of the statute are served by allowing tribes to intervene in adoptions, where state laws protect the parents’ rights without respect to race. If the parents want the child to be adopted, why involve the tribe? I’m uncomfortable when race comes into cases where it really doesn’t belong.

That being said, I’m very troubled by the fathers’ rights issues implicated in this case. This is a dad who intervened in the case as soon as he learned that an adoption was contemplated. Granted, he wasn’t exactly a standup guy during the pregnancy, but it’s not clear from anything I’ve read that he was ever even notified when the baby was born. The court made much of the fact that he had not supported the birth mother financially during her pregnancy, and that indeed his lack of support may have been a factor in her decision to place the baby for adoption. However, there’s so much that we don’t know about why that was. If the birth mother told Dad to eat dirt and never contact her again, that sheds a very different light on his lack of support, in my view. Be that as it may, as soon as Dad got notice, he objected. The Supreme Court states in its opinion that he would not have had the right to intervene under South Carolina’s law; ICWA was the only reason he was still in the case at all. This says to me that South Carolina’s law does not adequately protect fathers. I feel similarly about our laws here in Virginia, where I practice. The law doesn’t give good-faith fathers much of a chance, and that is wrong. Of course, only ICWA, and not father’s rights in general, was the issue before the Supreme Court in this case, so they could not have ruled on that ground.

But the Court also made much of the fact that ICWA was designed to prevent the “breakup” of Indian families, which it interpreted to mean that a child should not be removed from an intact family. Are we to believe that keeping a father who wants to parent his daughter from doing so does not count as the “breakup” of a family, merely because he never had custody? He wanted custody! He just was unable to get it in South Carolina’s courts.

I read a post on an adoption forum where someone stated that the Supreme Court’s verdict was “a win for the best interests of the child.” Wrong. Veronica spent the first two years and three months of her life with her adoptive parents, then went to live with a father who was a total stranger to her. How the South Carolina court came to the conculusion that this wasn’t clearly detrimental to the best interests of the child I have no idea, but it’s completely unsupported by child development science. Separating a two-year-old child from the only family she has ever known is an inevitable recipe for an attachment disorder. But (big But!) at this point, she has been with her father for 18 months. If she is indeed returned to the adoptive parents, that is not a “win.” It’s a tragedy no matter how you slice it.

I agree with the majority insofar as I think the purposes of ICWA are more geared towards keeping children in intact families, not in disrupting adoptions where everyone has consented properly under stat law. But I am troubled that state law in SC gives dad so little opportunity to exercise his rights. Most of all, I hope that these parties can come to their damn senses and agree do what is right for the child, which is most probably for her to stay right where she is rather than have her life turned upside down yet again.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

A Victory for Love in the DOMA/Prop 8 Case

Congratulations to my clients who are same-sex couples on this beautiful victory in the Supreme Court today. It is still unclear how this change will apply, particularly to those who live in states where same-sex marriage (and adoption) is still illegal (including my home state of Virginia). There is still so much work to be done to obtain equality for families and children in this country. However, today’s ruling is a huge step forward.

I am especially excited by the Supreme Court’s explicit ruling that same-sex marriage is beneficial for children. My practice is centered on children, and I know that aside from simply being the right thing to do, marriage equality protects children by giving them two parents with equal rights and responsibilities, as well as making more families eligible to foster needy children and adopt them from foster care. Justice Kennedy wrote that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

I am a straight child-welfare lawyer in an egregiously discriminatory state. I believe in the equality and dignity of all people before the law. I believe that all loving families are beneficial for children. If you are a GLBTQ person with a child-related legal issue, I make you this pledge: I will help you make it through this shameful period in our nation’s history. Take heart — it is getting better.

This is so great — and there’s still so much to be done! Let’s celebrate and then get back to work.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

“I’m Having Their Baby” on Oxygen

Lately, whenever I tell someone that I’m an adoption lawyer, the next question is “have you seen that show, ‘I’m Having Their Baby’?” The Oxygen Network’s new show has the adoption community buzzing, and love it or hate it, everybody seems to be watching.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first of all: The title is offensive. Truly offensive. It’s almost like they took a poll and came up with the most offensive title they possibly could, short of calling it “F*** You, Adoption Community.” When an expectant mother makes an adoption plan with an adoptive family, she is not “having their baby.” She is having her baby. Of course, that’s why they don’t let lawyers title television shows: I would have called it “I’m Pregnant and Planning to Place My Baby with an Adoptive Family After Being Counseled About the Alternatives, Understanding My Rights, and Deciding It’s in the Baby’s Best Interests, and After I Relinquish My Parental Rights and the Court Approves the Adoption, He or She Will Then Be Their Baby.” Or maybe just “The Adoption Show.”

I have seen a couple of episodes, and it hasn’t been as bad as the title suggests. In fact, I’d say it’s a better portrayal of adoption than most of what we see in the entertainment industry. Whether people’s private family decisions should be the subject of entertainment is another story altogether. What I liked most about the show is that it shatters a few stereotypes about women who choose adoption for their babies. Generally the media portrays women who make an adoption plan as either extremely young, poor, addicted to drugs, or some combination of those. Oxygen’s show (don’t make me type that title again!) portrays women of different ages, economic conditions, and education levels, and who have different reasons for making their adoption plans. What worries me most about the show is that with cameras rolling, I bet these expectant mothers are feeling extra pressure to go through with the adoption.

What do you think? Have you seen the show? Did you think it portrayed adoption accurately? Was it respectful to the parties?

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

An Ingenious App for Waiting Parents

We all love babies, but let’s face it: When you’re going through infertility treatments or waiting to adopt a child, sometimes other people’s babies are the last thing you want to see. Like most things in life these days, there’s an app for that – at least, for Google Chrome users. Simply download and it will remove all photos of babies from your newsfeed and replace them with the photo of your choice (such as the friendly tree shown above, or a photo of your favorite adoption attorney). According to the L.A. Times, the app has already gotten 41,000 “Likes” on Facebook. Talk about better living through technology!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Adoption Basics Seminar This Weekend!

If you are in the Northern Virginia area and considering adopting a child, don’t miss The Vaughan Firm’s free seminar, Adoption Basics, this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. in downtown Leesburg, Virginia. Topics covered include:

  • Getting started with your adoption plan
  • Deciding between agency and private adoption
  • Deciding between domestic and international adoption
  • Deciding between open and closed adoption
  • Raising enough money to adopt
  • What to expect from a home study
  • …and much more!
  • As always, we will save time at the end for your questions. Hope to see you there! For more information and to register, visit the seminar website.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Why This Straight, Married Virginia Lawyer Supports LGBT Families

    The website Mombian has organized their 7th annual Blogging for LGBT Families Day, when bloggers are invited to show their support for LGBT families on their blogs, and I’m proud to take part.

    People are often surprised when I tell them how many billable hours I give away for free to LGBT couples building or protecting their families. Why would a straight, married lawyer in a conservative state like Virginia make this her cause? Let’s talk about that. There are two reasons.

    Reason #1: I believe that LGBT equality is the major civil rights issue of my generation. When I was in law school, I took a class on the role of lawyers in the American civil rights movement of the 1950′s and ’60′s. Much of the important work of gaining equality for black Americans was accomplished in the courts. I so admired the brave lawyers (black and white alike) who fought these legal battles for no other reason than that it was the right thing to do. They lost a lot of cases. It must have been incredibly discouraging. But they didn’t give up, because what was at stake was basic human dignity. I believe that the same is true of LGBT equality. There is a significant portion of our population whose families are simply not legally recognized in a majority of states. I believe that this is going to appear just as horrifying to future generations as segregation does to us today.

    Reason #2: I believe in protecting children. Whatever you may feel about adults and their intimate relationships, I think we can all agree that children ought to be protected. In states where gay and lesbian relationships are not legally recognized, children are left frighteningly vulnerable. Here is just one example. Say a gay or lesbian couple has a child via sperm donation, or one parent adopts a child (since state law does not allow them to adopt as a couple). The parent who has not given birth to or adopted the child has no legal relationship to that child. None. So, if the birth or adoptive parent dies or becomes incapacitated, the child has (ready?) no legal parent. The child could very well go to foster care and be raised by a stranger rather than the person who has been a de facto parent for all of his or her life. I have to think that even if you are against gay marriage, it’s hard to view that scenario as being in the best interests of the child.

    Recognition of gay marriage would provide a host of other benefits for children of same-sex couples, including allowing them to be covered by both parents’ health insurance, giving clarity to custody disputes in the event of a breakup, allowing them to inherit from both parents, and much more.

    Speaking of children’s best interests, it makes no sense to me that with over 5,800 children in foster care in the state of Virginia alone, gay and lesbian couples are not permitted to foster or adopt.

    I have heard the argument that refusal to recognize LGBT parental rights is to protect children; that being raised by same-sex parents makes children gay or teaches them poor moral values or subjects them to teasing by peers. However, I take an evidence-based approach to most things in life, and all studies conducted on same-sex families show that children of same-sex couples do as well or better on measures of academic achievement, development, behavior, and self esteem than children of heterosexual couples (you can read more about that here). In fact, most of the time when you hear statistics claiming that children do better “with both a mother and a father,” the studies are comparing outcomes between two-parent families and single-parent families, not between heterosexual parents and homosexual parents.

    Today when I was talking to my hairdresser about this issue, she remarked “I wonder if Virginia will ever come around and recognize gay families.” I told her “yes, they will. Because I won’t give up until they do.” It happened in the sixties, and it will happen again. Because basic human dignity is too important to let go.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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