Archive for the 'LGBT adoption' Category

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.

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.

Celebrity Adoption Profile: Jillian Michaels

Talk about a busy new mama: After waiting almost two years to adopt, former Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels brought her two-year-old daughter Lukensia home from Haiti just days after Michaels’s partner Heidi Rhoades gave birth to the couple’s baby boy, Phoenix, on May 3. With two little ones under age three, Michaels might not have to hit the gym to stay in shape for a while! Congratulations to Michaels and Rhoades on their beautiful family.

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

What Does Your Attorney Do For You?

This blog is to provide helpful and interesting information to the adoption community, and I try not to spend many pixels here tooting my own horn. But today I was drinking my coffee and thinking about client service and how proud I am of what my practice has to offer. Here are just a few of the things I offer my clients on a daily basis. Does your lawyer offer these services to you? If not, maybe you should ask them!

  • Explaining the different types of adoption and how to choose the best type for your family
  • Lending out books from my lending library
  • Referring clients to social workers, counselors, pediatricians, OB/GYNs, support groups, other attorneys, and more (did I say babysitters? A lot of people ask me for good babysitters!)
  • Explaining how to protect children with a will and/or guardianship
  • Advising about insurance coverage for a child in the process of being adopted, including medicaid
  • Helping families who want a private adoption to make adoptive family profiles, websites, “Dear Birthmother” letters, and other materials to find a child to adopt
  • Advising families who are adopting or have adopted internationally about immigration issues
  • Educating people about the scientific research on attachment in children and child psychology
  • Explaining the laws regarding gay and lesbian parents in Virginia
  • Referring people to grants and loans for adoption, as well as explaining the Adoption Tax Credit
  • Acting as a “mailbox” between adoptive families and birth parents if they don’t want to exchange addresses but do want to exchange pictures and letters.
  • Helping adoptive families and birth parents negotiate a post-adoption contract, if they want one.
  • Handing out tissues, because the adoption process can be emotional for both adoptive parents and birth parents!
  • Returning client calls after business hours, because there are some adoption questions that can’t wait until morning.
  • Good adoption lawyers do far more than simply file court papers. What do you think? What other services does your adoption lawyer provide, or what services do you wish they provided? Leave a comment or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

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

    Adoptivity Goes to the Movies

    Let’s face it: Sitting down with a book is not everyone’s favorite way to learn. I got curious about whether there were any adoption-related movies out there to help people learn more about adoption topics. I found two that fascinated me, one great resource, and also a surprising gap. Make some popcorn and check them out!

    “The Giving” is a documentary by Mary Durnin Firth that has won awards for Best Documentary at four different film festivals. The film is a touching and eye-opening group of interviews with mothers who chose to place their babies for adoption. It follows each mother from pregnancy through placement, and the DVD also includes extended interviews with these mothers in addition to ones in the documentary itself. The film utterly blows away the myth that birth mothers are lazy, uncaring, and irresponsible or that they choose to place their babies out of any lack of love. I call it a must-see for adoptive parents, mothers considering adoption for their babies, and mothers who have already placed their babies for adoption. For those of you who are my clients, I am ordering a copy of the DVD for my lending library, so let me know if you would like to borrow it. Meanwhile you can watch the trailer here.

    The second movie that caught my eye this week is “Living Adoption: Gay Parents Speak.” (click the link and scroll down to the bottom to watch the trailer) This documentary is also a series of interviews, this time with gay and lesbian adoptive parents. Each family speaks about their experiences throughout the adoption process, including adopting from foster care, being conspicuous in their communities, and special issues of raising adopted teens. I am fascinated by this film and would love to see it, but I have to admit I got sticker shock at the price tag. Seriously, guys? $100 for a 21-minute video? It’s really unfortunate that the film’s creators have priced it out of reach of most of the people who would benefit from it (and I think everyone would benefit from seeing these beautiful families). I’m keeping an eye out for screenings of the film in my area, and if the price comes down I will certainly add it to my library.

    On a lighter note, I was thrilled to see that the Mister Rogers Neighborhood episodes on adoption are available on DVD through Amazon.com. Most people don’t know that Mister Rogers had a sister who was adopted. Most people also don’t know that he did this wonderful week-long series called “Families Come in All Shapes and Sizes,” in which he talks about what adoption is and some of the feelings kids might have about it, then goes on to explore different kinds of families (both human and animal), emphasizing that what really makes a family is love. Although these episodes were made in the 1980s, they are surprisingly nuanced on the topic of adoption. For example, in one episode Mister Rogers points out that it’s okay to sometimes feel sad, angry, or scared about being adopted. Gentle and respectful of children’s feelings, these are a really positive resource for adoptive parents of young children.

    What most surprised me about my search for adoption-related movies was a conspicuous lack of movies geared towards prospective adoptive parents. While I did find a few, they don’t seem to be very comprehensive or to touch on the complex issues that adopting families really should be thinking about. It would be nice to see a series of DVDs that are more along the lines of the education you would get from a really good adoption-preparation class with a reputable agency.

    Do you know any great film resources about adoption that are not on this list? Have you seen any of these movies? Chime in using the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

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

    An Eloquent Young Advocate for Family Equality

    I was floored by the eloquence and poise of 19-year-old Zach Wahls in the video clip below. Wahls spoke to the Iowa House of Representatives in opposition to Iowa House Joint Resolution 6, which would amend the Iowa constitution to end civil unions in that state. If he speaks this beautifully at 19, I think gay and lesbian parents have a formidable advocate in Wahls.

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

    Gay and Lesbian Parents: 5 Things to Tell Your Child’s Teachers

    School and daycare present opportunities for kids and teachers alike to learn about the many different types of families out there. For gay and lesbian parents of adopted children, a quick talk with your child’s teacher or caregiver at the beginning of the year goes a long way towards helping your child’s classmates learn about your family. At your next parent-teacher conference, consider bringing up the following five questions to help the teacher know your preferences in talking about your family.

    1. What does your child call each of you at home? (e.g. “mama” and “mom”)

    2. How would you like the teacher to refer to you, individually and together? (e.g., “Jimmy’s mom,” “Jimmy’s parents”)

    3. How do you prefer that the teacher refers to your family when the class is talking about families?

    4. Do you celebrate Mother’s Day and/or Father’s Day?

    5. Is the teacher familiar with positive adoption terminology? If not, it’s a great opportunity to gently educate them!

    Do you have other questions to add to this list? Post them in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

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

    Children’s Books for Gay and Lesbian Parents

    I was very pleased to come across a wonderful resource for gay and lesbian parents today during my travels on the internet. The Family Equality Council has compiled this wonderful list of children’s books that portray LGBT families. The list also includes books that portray single mothers, single fathers, and those that deal with issues of sexual identity and positive self-image. They are organized by age, from birth to age thirteen.

    If I had one quibble with this list, it’s that it doesn’t include the delightful And Tango Makes Three, a book about two male penguins raising a baby chick in Central Park Zoo. As I mentioned in my review of the book, I think it is one of the most charming and positive books for children about the meaning of family.

    Do you know a book that isn’t on this list but should be? Post it in the comments, or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

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

    Book Review: And Tango Makes Three

    Whether you are a gay or lesbian parent or simply looking for a way to introduce your children to the idea that there are many types of families, And Tango Makes Three is the book for you. When reading reviews of this book written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, the word you will see the most is “charming.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more charming tale than this true story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo.

    Roy and Silo are just a little bit different from the other male penguins. Instead of noticing the female penguins, they notice each other, and the zookeeper notices that “they must be in love.” They build a nest together like the other penguins, and they bring home an egg-shaped rock and start caring for it. When the observant zookeeper finds himself with a penguin egg in need of a family, he decides to let the pair raise a chick of their own, and Roy and Silo know just what to do. Thus, Tango makes three in one of the most charismatic families in print. If the beautiful message that it’s love that makes a family isn’t enough to warm your heart, than the illustrations of fuzzy baby penguins surely will.

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

    Finding an LGBT-Savvy Adoption Lawyer

    The following is a re-post of a guest post that I wrote for The Human Rights Project’s “All Children – All Families” initiative for National Adoption Month.

    Anyone considering adoption has options for the type of adoption to pursue. For those who decide on an independent adoption (rather than adopting through an agency), choosing a qualified attorney is one of the first and most important steps. Because of the confusing state of the law on LGBT family issues, the choice of an attorney is even more important for LGBT couples and individuals. Below are some tips and questions to ask that will help you choose the right lawyer for your family.

    Do your homework. The idea of cold calling attorneys who may or may not be LGBT-friendly is not very appealing. Instead, do some research to find out who the attorneys with LGBT adoption experience are in your area. The National LGBT Bar Association and Lambda Legal both offer attorney referrals. Local LGBT organizations and support groups are also good sources of information. Finally, if you have LGBT friends who have adopted, ask them about their experiences with their attorneys.

    When you get an adoption lawyer, get an adoption lawyer. Obvious, right? But you might be surprised how many people (LGBT or not) start by approaching the same attorney who did their will or fought their traffic ticket. Adoption is a highly specialized area, and LGBT adoption even more so. Choose an attorney who specializes in these practice areas.

    Shop around. If you live in a small, conservative community, you may simply be feeling relieved that you found one attorney who does LGBT adoption work. If possible, however, it’s a good idea to have a consultation with more than one attorney so you can compare prices, communication styles, and your level of comfort with the attorney. I have heard stories about communities where unscrupulous attorneys market themselves to the LGBT community, only to charge much higher rates to LGBT couples. That’s not what I’d call advocacy.

    Go with your gut. Feeling comfortable with your adoption attorney is not a luxury – it’s a must. After all, you will be discussing your dreams for your family with this person, calling them when you’re anxious and confused about the process, and sharing some of the most life-changing moments with them. Choosing someone who “gets” you and is enthusiastic about your family makes a big difference.

    Read critically. If the lawyer has paperwork for you to fill out, watch the language. Is there a line that says “spouse,” or does it use the more inclusive “spouse or partner?” Do the attorney’s website and promotional materials actively welcome LGBT clients?

    Ask questions. Some questions you may want to ask prospective attorneys include:

  • How is adoption different for LGBT people compared to non-LGBT people in this state?
  • What are the steps we will go through to adopt?
  • Tell me about the differences between domestic and international, private and agency, and foster-care adoption for LGBT couples.
  • Have you worked with LGBT couples before?
  • Are you affiliated with any LGBT advocacy groups? (Examples include the National LGBT Bar Association, The Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU. These types of affiliations show a real commitment to LGBT issues, rather than simply seeing the LGBT community as a good source of paying clients).
  • What resources do you know that support LGBT families? (An experienced attorney will know about support groups, nonprofit organizations, informational resources, books, etc.)
  • Can you help us find a social worker who has experience working with LGBT families for our homestudy?
  • What are your fees, and approximately how much do most adoptions cost?
  • Approximately how long do most adoptions take?
  • How often do you communicate with your clients? Who will be available to us if we have questions as we go along?
  • It is an unfortunate truth that LGBT individuals and couples often face more hurdles than non-LGBT people do when they decide to adopt a child. However, with the right professionals on your team, you will achieve your dreams of having a family.

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

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