How do Wisconsin LGBT families protect their children?

Fuchsia Woods

I am constantly amazed by how many folks don’t know that Wisconsin prohibits same-sex couples from jointly adopting children – or adopting each other’s children. Not being able to adopt children as co-parents prevents same-sex couples from insuring their children together as legal dependents.

In Wisconsin, two adults of the same gender identity can foster a child, but once the child is offered for permanent placement, only one parent can be the official adoptive parent.

In light of Wisconsin’s adoption laws, there are three steps that same-sex parents should consider.

Guardianship

My partner and I went to children’s court and had her name added as our son’s second legal, permanent guardian. I did not have to give up my legal guardianship – she was simply added. This can be done for biological or adopted children. However, the Social Security Administration does not recognize guardianship status. If our child’s other mother died, he probably would not receive benefits. 

We have often benefited from him having two legal guardians during trips to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital, where we must declare that we are both legal guardians. We also have shown our guardianship papers when applying for a passport for our son. 

My partner insures our whole family on her health insurance, and by being our son’s legal guardian, she doesn’t have to pay extra federal tax on his insurance. 

Other parents leave the child with just one legal guardian. That is the best decision for some families. 

But if something happens to the legal parent, the child may end up being awarded to a blood relative rather than to the partner who has acted as a second parent to that child. 

Choosing names for birth certificates

In Wisconsin, you are only allowed to list opposite-sex married people as a child’s parents.

If we had named our sperm donor on any document, we would not have been able to obtain rights for my partner in any state. Many people think they can name the known donor at the beginning of the child’s life and change it later, but that is difficult. In effect, you are saying that the child had a father in the past but now doesn’t. To get his name off the paperwork, he’ll have to declare in court that he doesn’t want to know or support the child.

Courts frown on a parent giving up parental rights. You will probably have to prove that the biological father is unfit, which is complicated, difficult and expensive.

Power of attorney

Having living wills, trusts and power of attorney documents drawn up as soon as possible can prevent your child from being raised by someone you didn’t select. There are cases of religious right groups trying to claim rights to a child when one parent dies. Prior to our son’s birth, my partner obtained power of attorney over both of us.

Hoping for change

None of the concerns above would be necessary if Wisconsin had fair laws protecting us all. “Children deserve to know that their relationships with both of their parents are stable and legally recognized. This applies to all children, whether their parents are of the same or opposite sex. When two adults participate in parenting a child, they and the child deserve the serenity that comes with legal recognition,” according to an American Academy of Pediatrics Policy statement in 2002.

I dream of the day when Wisconsin lawmakers follow AAP’s advice. In March, the academy came out in support of same-sex marriage, stating that pediatricians advocate for public policies that help all children and their parents, regardless of sexual orientation, build and maintain strong, stable, and healthy families that are able to meet the needs of their children.

NOTE: This is my interpretation of what I have experienced. Please seek your own legal council.