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The Cost to Call You “Mommy”: Lesbian Mothers Spend Up to $5,000 More for Basic Parenting Rights

April 30, 2013
Managing Money
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Thinking about all the costs of a child can be overwhelming – education, medical bills, vacations and more. But what about the costs of legally claiming one’s own child? For most straight couples, this is hardly on the mind, but for lesbian couples, it’s routine.

For this upcoming Mother’s Day, we decided to take a look at these questions. Without even calculating the cost of actually producing the child, how much does it cost just to legally be called mommy?

According to a NerdWallet study, lesbian couples must spend an estimated $5,000 more than straight couples just to legally have both partners granted full parenthood. What’s worse, after all those costs, lesbian couples’ rights can be turned down anyways.

Without any added documentation, one may be involved with and help raise her partner’s biological or adoptive child, but in the case of an emergency, she won’t have the power to make decisions on behalf of the child. Second parent adoption, or the process of adopting a partner’s adoptive or biological child, is by far the best way to secure one’s rights as a parent. This process is both costly and very limited, however, for lesbian couples in the United States.

LGBT Adoption Statewide Laws

All 50 states allow an LGBT individual to petition for adoption, but only a few grant rights to couples. Here are the states that allow joint and/or second parent adoption.

State Joint LGBT Adoption Second Parent LGBT Adoption
California X X
Colorado X X
Connecticut X X
Delaware X
District of Columbia X X
Hawaii X
Illinois X X
Indiana X X
Iowa X
Kansas Not Statewide
Kentucky Not Statewide
Louisiana Not Statewide
Maine X X
Maryland X
Massachusetts X X
Michigan Not Statewide
Mississippi Not Statewide
Montana X
Nebraska Not Statewide
Nevada X
New Hampshire X
New Jersey X X
New Mexico
New York X X
North Carolina Not Statewide Not Statewide
North Dakota
Ohio Not Statewide
Oregon X X
Pennsylvania X
Rhode Island X
South Carolina
South Dakota
Utah Not Statewide Not Statewide
Vermont X X
Washington X
West Virginia
Wisconsin Not Statewide

Estimated Costs of a Second Parent Adoption

There are quite a few expenses to consider when petitioning for a second parent adoption. These requirements vary by state and by county, but at the very least, expenses generally include:

  • Legal Fees: $1000 – $2500
  • Home Study: $850 – $2000
  • Court Fees: $100 – $600
  • Total Estimated Cost: $2500 – $5000

In addition to legal and court fees, a home study may be required of anyone petitioning to adopt a child. A home study is a process in which an adoptive family and its living situation are evaluated to ensure a child’s needs will be met. A social worker inspects where a child will sleep and ensures the house or apartment meets safety requirements. The prospective parents will also be interviewed, asking how disputes are resolved and how a child will be raised.

Because state laws vary considerably, second parent adoption costs are difficult to determine. Furthermore, going through this process and paying one’s dues still doesn’t ensure one’s rights. When the time comes, hospitals can still deny an individual the right to make decisions on behalf of her child.

Extra Precautions, Extra Protection

In order to further protect a lesbian parent’s rights, one should complete a HIPAA release and Authorization to Consent to the Medical Treatment of a Minor Child. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996, and it ensures the right to privacy to people 12 – 18 years old. In short, HIPAA restricts access to an individual’s medical files, making it difficult for those not legally recognized as parents to see their children’s medical records. The biological or adoptive parent can authorize her spouse to view necessary medical records and information if second parent adoption isn’t available or just isn’t enough.

In addition, the Authorization to Consent to the Medical Treatment of a Minor Child ensures the second parent can make medical decisions on behalf of the child in the adoptive or biological parent’s absence or if she becomes incapacitated for any reason. These forms should work in conjunction with specific directions regarding guardianship in an individual’s will.

HIPAA Facts and Tips:

  • To ensure one can view all medical records at all times, make sure to include the phrases “entire medical record” and “complete patient file” in the authorization. Requesting to view “protected health information” is insufficient in most cases.
  • One must include an expiration date on the authorization
  • It does not need to be notarized or witnessed
  • A HIPAA authorization can be faxed from one doctor to another and be treated as a valid document
  • Supplement the HIPAA with a cover letter to include even more specifics not listed on the authorization form
  • File a HIPAA authorization with your child’s general physician, your local hospital and your healthcare provider

These forms alone do not come with extra fees, but consulting a lawyer to ensure full coverage and protection is recommended. At the end of the day, hospitals and officials can deny anyone the right to make decisions for or to even visit their child, so necessary documentation is imperative.

In sum, lesbian mothers face significant additional costs in securing the legal rights to their children. These costs can add up to an estimated $5,000 or more, and the return on this investment isn’t inviolate – lesbian mothers’ rights can be turned down regardless.

While we did focus on lesbian couples in light of the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday, it is important to note that many of the above costs affect all LGBT couples as well.