Oklahoma Court Decision Raises Concerns for LGBTQ+ Parents Highlighting the Importance of Confirmatory Adoptions
By Keri Bruso
In February 2023, an Oklahoma state court issued a decision that handed over a lesbian mother’s parenting rights to the child’s sperm donor. This case highlighted the importance of securing LGBTQ+ parenting rights through confirmatory adoptions.
Oklahoma residents, Kris Williams married Rebekah Wilson in June 2019. The couple had been together since June of 2014 and chose to have a baby together. They found their sperm donor, Harlan Vaughn, through a known donor registry. Wilson gave birth to their child, a boy, in August 2019. After raising the child together for three years, Williams and Wilson separated, and Wilson moved herself and the couple’s child into Vaughn’s home. Williams then petitioned for custody of the child but was denied.
The outcome of this case is terrifying considering how much Williams did to protect her parentage from the get-go. Wilson entered into a known sperm donor agreement with the child’s donor prior to the insemination. These legal agreements voluntarily waive all parenting rights that the sperm donor would have to the child absent an agreement. In addition, Williams was listed as the child’s parent on the child’s original birth certificate, which raises a presumption of parentage in states like Massachusetts. In addition, an Oklahoma state paternity law states, “A man is presumed to be the father of a child if . . . He and the mother of the child are married to each other, and the child is born during the marriage.”[i]
Despite the legal steps William’s took to protect her rights as a parent, the Oklahoma court ruled in a rather backwards way that the Oklahoma paternity law does not apply to same-sex couples. The Court reasoned that the law predates the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. This was a befuddled ruling that raised several Constitutional questions. Most pressingly however, this was a devastating ruling that allowed a mother’s rights to be stolen simply because she was a lesbian.
Williams has since vowed to appeal this case, but in the meantime, LGBTQ+ parents may wonder what they can do to prevent this kind of nightmare from happening to them? This story is a cautionary tale for LGBTQ+ parents.
What is a confirmatory adoption?
A confirmatory adoption is when the non-biological parent(s) in an LGBTQ+ relationship adopt their child through the court system. The paperwork is essentially the same as any other adoption case and this can often be done administratively. Having something done “administratively” means the parties in the case do not have to attend a hearing in court to secure their parenting rights.
The effect of these adoptions is to legally name the petitioners the parent of a child. Adoption has the same legal significance as being a child’s biological parent. So essentially, when an LGBTQ+ parent does one of these adoptions, they are “confirming” that they are the parent of their child in the eyes of the law. These adoptions have a much stronger effect than being married at the time of the child’s birth or listing your name on a child’s birth certificate because those avenues merely raise presumptions of parentage that can be rebutted, as it was in this case.
While it is frustrating that LGBTQ+ parents need to take this extra step to secure their parentage, all LGBTQ+ parents absolutely should purse these adoptions when they become parents. These adoptions are a secure way to protect your family and give yourself peace of mind that legal challenges will not disrupt your right to be a parent to your child.
If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and planning on, or even have, a child(ren) of your own and want to pursue a confirmatory adoption, please contact the attorneys at Hera Law Group, (978) 637-2048. Our attorneys are experienced in confirmatory adoptions and will help walk you through the process every step of the way to secure your parenting rights.
[i] 10 OK Stat § 7700-204 (2022)