Domestic partner adoption occurs when one partner in a domestic partnership adopts a child born to the other partner. Domestic partnerships are recognized relationships between two people who do not wish to be married or cannot be married, such as same-sex couples prior to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Depending on the state, domestic partners will receive partial or full state spousal rights. Domestic partnerships are currently only recognized in California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, and Oregon.
In these states, one domestic partner may adopt the biological child of the other partner. A few states, such as California and Oregon on a case-by-case basis, allow a child to have more than two legal guardians. However, most states limit a child’s possible number of legal guardians to two people. This means that if there are two biological parents retaining parental rights, a third domestic partner to one of the parents cannot adopt the child. In states that practice this so-called Rule of Two, one biological parent must cede their parental rights so that the other biological parent and their domestic partner can become the child’s two legal guardians.
The biological parent in the domestic partnership must consent to the adoption, but unlike in traditional adoption, the biological parent in the partnership can retain their full parental rights to the child. After a domestic partner adoption, the child is considered to have two legal parents, and the adoptive parent usually gains the same rights, responsibilities, and duties as the biological parent. Thus, a legal relationship is formed between the child and the adoptive parent that will continue to exist even if the domestic partners choose to separate. For example, after a separation of domestic partners, the adoptive parent will have the same joint-custody rights of the biological parent, as well as the same obligation to financially support the child.
In states where domestic partner adoption is not allowed, couples may instead opt for a co-parenting or custody agreement. These agreements can allow domestic partners to evenly distribute rights and responsibilities regarding the child, although only the biological parent would be considered the legal parent.
[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]