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American Lawyer Media News Service Second-parent adoptions, widely used by same-sex couples to form families, have been declared legal by the California Supreme Court. The Aug. 4 ruling legitimizes as many as 20,000 adoptions that had been placed in limbo by a lower court decision and brings California in line with 21 other states that have validated such adoptions. Second-parent adoptions occur when one person adopts the biological parent’s child to provide two parents. Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the court, “Our explicitly recognizing their validity will prevent uncertainty, conflict and protracted litigation in this area, all of which plainly are harmful to children caught in the middle. “Unmarried couples who have brought a child into the world with the expectation that they will raise it together,” she held, “should be on notice that if they separate the same rules concerning custody and visitation as apply to all other parents will apply to them.” Sharon S. v. Superior Court (Annette F.), No. S102671. Annette Friskopp had used the second-parent method in 1996 to adopt long-time partner Sharon Silverstein’s son Zachary, who was born through artificial insemination. But while doing the same thing three years later for Silverstein’s second son, Joshua, the two broke up, and Silverstein took steps to block the adoption. Siding with Silverstein, a divided San Diego appellate court in 2001 declared all second-parent adoptions in California invalid, saying they were not authorized under the state’s Family Code. Disagreeing, the high court said the appellate ruling had the makings of a disaster. “Affirmance not only would cast a shadow of uncertainty over the legal relationships between thousands of children and their adoptive parents (contrary to the clearly stated intention of all interested parties),” Werdegar wrote, “but potentially could prompt some adoptive parents to disclaim their established responsibilities.” In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Justice Marvin Baxter, joined by Justice Ming Chin, supported the adoptions, but argued that the majority had gone too far by allowing a birth parent to terminate his or her rights for any type of adoption, not just a second parent’s. Baxter argued that such leeway throws the door open for “new and even bizarre family structures” where children could have multiple parents. Justice Janice Rogers Brown, in a separate concurring and dissenting opinion, agreed, saying that the majority was committed to “the-more-parents-the-merrier view of parenthood.” John Dodd, the Tustin, Calif., lawyer who represented Silverstein, could not be reached for comment. Charles Bird, a partner at San Diego’s Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps who represented Friskopp, said the decision gave him goose bumps. “A lot of lawyers who have been involved in this case-whether adoption lawyers or appellate advocates or child advocates or civil liberties advocates,” he said, “have been approached by friends or clients who have adopted and who said, ‘Do we need to go back and do this all over again?’ Most of us said, ‘Don’t change your life now. Trust the California Supreme Court to get it right,’ and they got it right.”

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