How to adopt your own child (if you are a queer/trans/gnc non-biological parent in Vermont with a donor-conceived baby)
Compiled and written by Mel Baiser
Ever since the 2016 election season began, I’ve been saying to myself, I really need to figure out how to adopt my kid…you know, just in case something catastrophic happens and our country elects someone who rolls back LGBTQ rights. There are countless reasons for why a queer, trans or gender non-conforming person who is not the biological parent of their child would want “extra” legal documentation protecting their parental rights. I’m not going to go into those here since I’m guessing most of you could imagine. And, guess what; something catastrophic has happened! Literally more than half the voting population felt too alienated from the political system to vote and then less than 50% of those who did vote chose to side with white supremacy and due to our antiquated electoral college, we are where we are. I hesitate to even write this up because as a white queer, I do not want to detract attention from the devastating effect that this Trump presidency and cabinet will certainly have on immigrants, black folks, latinx, arabs, muslims, jews, Native Americans, disabled folks, trans and gender non-conforming people, incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals, women, poor and working class folks of all races and OMG the planet!!! In fact, it has already been in full effect just over the past two weeks. My heart is literally aching for the violent impact this reality we face will have on my friends, on people in my community and a lot of folks who I do not know but still care about. Despite all that, I know oppression is intersectional and our struggles are connected. So, here is some practical information that will hopefully help out a few other fellow queer parents living in VT as we face uncertain times ahead.
Big disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is the culmination of information from friends who have gone through this process (thank you Emily, Ellen, Abby & Laura). If you are a lawyer and want to make any edits to this list, please do! If you have recently gone through this annoying process and want to share anything, please do! Also, this post is specific to Vermont and keep in mind the protocol could be slightly different from town to town. I imagine the process could be similar in other states, but I don’t really know. Lastly, I just want to say, I completely resent the fact that I have to do this. Do you know how many sleepless nights I spent with my colicky son? Anyone who knows me knows I am this kid’s parent. The fact that I need to go through this process and prove it to the State because some homophobic bigots want to protect the “sanctity of marriage“ and/or think my lifestyle is a work of the devil, is absolutely infuriating.
1. Go to the Vermont Judiciary website: https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/default.aspx
2. At the top banner to the far right it says: “List of Courts.” Select “Probate Division.”
3. If you need contact info for your local probate court, select your county.
4. On the left side of the page click “Adoptions” (second one down)
5. Scroll down and under Adoption Info select “Stepparent/Partner Adoption.” Read this document. It gives you information about the process and tells you things like, you need to pay a $150 adoption filing fee (for adopting your own child.) Also, you’ll need to have a criminal record check and be fingerprinted at a police station. This costs another $24 and takes 8-10 weeks. And you either need a home-study or if you waive one, you need to do a whole bunch of other things (more on this later).
6. The easiest way to figure out which forms to fill out (there are a lot of them) is to visit the local probate court and ask them. If you are in Brattleboro, the probate court is located at 30 Putney Rd. 2nd floor (802) 257-2800. Otherwise, you may end up filling out forms you do not need and/or the wrong forms. Note that the forms have not been updated with the language specific to this scenario so it’s confusing.
7. Fill out the correct form: Which I believe is FORM 131C “Petition to Adopt Minor by a Parent’s Partner.” For question number 38, check Yes for “File a request with this court for waiver of the home study.” This was the recommended action by at least one local lawyer.
8. Once you have completed all of the forms; bring them unsigned to your local probate court. There you will sign and notarize the forms (most probate courts are notary publics but confirm ahead of time). And bring a checkbook-it’s currently a $150 fee.
9. You’ll also need to make an appointment to have a criminal record check and fingerprinting completed. This currently costs $24 (according to the website). Fill out the VT criminal info center fingerprint authorization certificate form and sign and notarize when you are at the probate court. The court clerk should give you copies of forms to bring for fingerprinting and send other copies to the FBI for the background check (there may be an additional fee for this.)
10. One family reported that after filing the paperwork they received a letter from the probate court 3 weeks later. The courts may be seeing an increase in activity right now so this could take longer.
11. For the waiver of home study you will need letters of reference from family, friends and neighbors; a personal statement; a summary of your finances; all this to prove you will be a good parent to the kid you have already been parenting since birth. The probate court should have the list of requirements and a template of questions to answer in your personal statement. Just to repeat: You will need others to give you a written reference testifying as to what kind of parent you are even though you are the f*%4ing parent! Not to mention a personal essay about it.
12. Next, contact your cryobank and/or whomever you received the donation from to provide a notarized copy of donor consent and specimen release form acknowledging that the donor is revoking their rights to the child. Most cryobanks will know what this form is (especially now.)
13. Once you have the entire package complete then submit it in person again. One family reported that it took about 2 months to get a court date after submitting all the paperwork.
14. Go to your court date. Assuming there are no issues, receive your certificate of adoption. Plan on 3-6 months for the process depending on how quickly you fill things out and whether or not the courts are backed up. You’ll need the consent of the biological parent otherwise known as “Consent of Stepparent’s Spouse (Biological Parent)”. This form should be filled out by the spouse in front of the judge at the final hearing.
15. Remember to make copies of your adoption papers, marriage certificate (if you have one), birth certificate, healthcare info and keep them in your vehicles, home and on you while traveling. It may turn out that the State will continue to acknowledge your marriage and parental rights but if you leave the State, the situation could be different. And, who really knows what we are headed for - better to be safe than sorry.
On December second Green Mountain Crossroads’ executive director, HB Lozito; board member, Emily Marker; and local community member and filmmaker, Jonah Mossberg, participated in a White House Rural Policy Council convening on advancing the progress of LGBT people in rural America.
The nature of our rural-focused work often means that we are geographically isolated from others working in rural LGBTQ communities. A large part of the work of GMC is building those connections among LGBTQ people in rural areas and small towns—we are doing this all the time in our own home region through activities like our Out in the Open Summit, Earth Gay Vermont, Pride Family Picnic, Trans Book Group, and our other regular programming. It was exciting to be in a room 60 other people from all over the U.S. who are also working with rural LGBTQ folks in their own home communities.
At the start of the convening, we were informed that the meeting was to be off the record including names of who was attending, direct quotes, as well as photos with out specific permission. While honoring this request, we wanted to share some details about the gathering.
The day started off with a conversation between StoryCorps, and the Human Rights Campaign. Folks discussed the power of oral history and storytelling for LGBT communities. A question came up in the Q+A session about if the person from StoryCorps knew of any rural communities conducting oral history projects. I didn’t have a chance to mention our Andrew’s Inn oral history project during the session but I did follow the speaker into the hallway after the session in order to share with him about our project (we currently have over 30 hours of interviews recorded! Anyone want to help us transcribe?)
Next up was a panel on civil rights and legal issues featuring an Assistant to the President; a representative from the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division; as well as from the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. The folks on this panel drew a distinction between federal appointees and career lawyers working in the Department. The expressed perspective was that while we will collectively be facing many challenges these next few years, only a small percentage of the people working in the federal government are appointees who will be replaced with the new incoming administration.
The last panel of the afternoon was looking at innovation and tech tools we can use (and that are already being used) for organizing in rural LGBT communities. Moderated by a representative from BiNet. Featured panelists included people from Human Dignity Coalition, LGBT Technology Partnership and Institute; Fairness Campaign, and California Rural Legal Assistance. Folks from Fairness Campaign shared about how they achieved LGBT campaign wins throughout Kentucky over time often by showing up to small community gatherings and events giving the example that “every small community has a strawberry or blueberry festival!” I thought fondly of our local Camp Destiny Radical Faeries who serve pie each fall at the Dummerston Apple Pie Festival.
After the panels, we had the opportunity to join brief break-out sessions. I attended a session about economic opportunities and barriers for rural LGBT communities. In the break-out, I shared about how I see great potential for our work here at GMC as economic development. I hear from people all the time that they were thinking of moving to the area but had concerns about being isolated and wondering what if any queer community would exist in this rural area. When they discover GMC, it makes LGBTQ life in this rural region seem possible.
Before wrapping up the gathering with some networking, a person from USDA leadership spoke about their agency’s charge to develop and strengthen rural communities from housing to support for those facing addictions.
We made great connections with folks working on rural LGBTQ issues throughout the U.S. including Creating Change Foundation, ACLU of Kentucky, National Center for Lesbian Rights, True Colors Fund, and the Trevor Foundation among others. I’m excited to see what we can make of these new and on-going connections to help us continue building power of rural LGBTQ people here in Southern Vermont!