The “D” word — divorce. No loving couple wants to ever consider that they could get a divorce, but the fact of the matter is, it can happen to anyone. It’s not easy raising kids and working on a relationship According to the American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50 percent of American couples get divorced, and LGBT couples are not amiss from those numbers. Though there’s no real statistics on LGBT divorce rates for the U.S.yet — since marriage equality only happened a year ago — we do know that as soon as same-sex marriage was legalized nationally, there were LGBT divorces in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Massachusetts soon after the ruling.
Divorce between two people can be simple, however, divorcing with kids — not so easy. Though we are still celebrating the ability to get married in all 50 states, sadly, we have to consider the other side, divorce, and what that means for prospective LGBT parents. After being approached by a few readers, we thought it best to share some things that all LGBT couples looking to create their family should do to secure their parental rights in case they are ever faced with a divorce, so as to make a smooth transition for everyone involved, especially children.
1. Get legally married
This may seem like a given since we are talking about divorce, but the fact of the matter is that there are some LGBT couples who don’t get married and still have kids or had a wedding ceremony before same-sex marriage was legalized and haven’t yet made it official. These couples might already have had kids together before they got married, but it’s super important that they are legally recognized as a married couple. Why? If a couple separates and goes through child custody, it’s more helpful to have legal recognition as two committed persons in a relationship raising children together, especially for the non-bio parent or a parent that did not go through the adoption of the children (if it was a single adoption case prior to the legalization of marriage equality or if the couple met following the adoption, etc.).
2. Second parent or step-parent adoption
It’s sad to say, but not all states have made forward strides in their parenting laws when it comes to LGBT couples. For a straight couple who uses a sperm donor, it’s automatic that the husband is still considered the father. For lesbian couples who use IVF or gay couples who use surrogacy, that assumption is not always there in every state in the U.S. This is where second-parent and step-parent adoptions come in. It’s unfortunate that non-bio LGBT parents have to “adopt” their children or stepchildren to be recognized parents but that’s currently the state of affairs in the U.S. especially since it can cost a hefty fee, include meetings with Child Department Services, and involve court dates. Just check out how these two moms dealt with it.
Bio parents, think of it this way — second-parent and stepparent adoption are ways to protect your rights as a parent if for any reason you divorce your partner, the bio parent of your children. And don’t you want that protection no matter the cost?
Click here for more info on second parent and step parent adoption.
3. Create a parenting agreement
Parenting agreements are wonderful things for any LGBT couple who decide to have children. It’s a legal document drawn up with the help of lawyers that states that both persons in the relationship are parents to their children. It can also lay out the responsibilities and rights that each parent has toward the children during the relationship and if the relationship ends. This is a wonderful document to have if ever you have to go to court over custody.
4. Do what’s best for your children
No matter how a relationship ends, it is always important to do what’s best for the child or children in the relationship which often means visitation rights. Yes, it might not be easy to see an ex, but if your child has formed a parent-child bond with them and they do not pose any physical or mental harm to their child, be respectful of that relationship. On the other hand, if you are a non-bio parent that is having difficulty getting fair visitation rights or joint-custody and your state’s laws don’t allow for it — fight the system and change the law. It’s already happened in a few states in the U.S.!
Remember, entering a marriage and having kids are wonderful aspects of anyone’s life and though we do not assume or expect to ever divorce or separate from our partner — it can happen. It’s always best to be absolutely and totally prepared as a parent for any situation — because isn’t that what parenting is about?