Georgia appeals court upholds a second-parent adoption on narrow grounds and expresses doubt about whether such adoptions are allowed in Georgia

July 24, 2012 – Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage by Nancy Polikoff

It’s another lesbian-behaving-badly case, this one entitled Bates v. Bates.  In 2007, a lesbian couple, Nicole and Tina Bates, successfully petitioned a Georgia trial court for a second-parent adoption that made Tina a legal parent of the child Nicole gave birth to after conception through donor insemination.  Three years later, after the couple split up, Nicole went back to the same court and asked for the adoption to be set aside.  (Even after all these years, and everything I know, I cannot write this last sentence without screaming inside.)  The court denied the motion, finding that Georgia law did not allow an adoption to be challenged after six months.  Nicole unsuccesfully petitioned to appeal that order.
Meanwhile, Tina had filed for custody in a different county.  After Nicole lost her initial attempt to void the adoption, she moved to dismiss Tina’s custody action by arguing, again, that the adoption decree was not valid.  The judge granted Nicole’s motion to dismiss and so threw out Tina’s custody petition.  The trial judge found that Georgia does not allow second-parent adoption.  It also ruled that it could not adjudicate custody of the child because the Georgia Constitution prohibits courts from ruling on the “respective rights arising as a result of or in connection with [a relationship between persons of the same sex].”
Tina appealed, and in the Bates decision issued two weeks ago, the Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division, ruled in her favor.  But it did so on the narrow ground that Nicole had had her shot at claiming the adoption void and had lost.  Having lost once, she could not relitigate the same issue in a different court. (This legal doctrine goes by the Latin term res judicata.)  In the process of ruling for Tina, however, the court expressed skepticism about whether Georgia does, in fact, allow second-parent adoption.  It suggested Nicole’s argument had “merit,” and called the practice of second-parent adoption in Georgia “doubtful.”   The court therefore sent Tina’s custody petition back to the trial court.  The court noted that adjudicating the custody of the child arises out of the adoption decree and not the relationship between Tina and Nicole and therefore does not run afoul of the state constitution. There is no indication in the opinion about when Tina last saw her child.

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Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

Attorney and Advocate at Time For Families
Who am I? On the deepest level, I am blessed. I have an amazing partner, who I have known since 1989 and been married to since 2004. I am the donor dad of two beautiful daughters who have two moms who are equally amazing. My husband and I have expanded our family through surrogacy and have a seven-year old son. I have had three careers (acting, massage therapy and the law) and I am still discovering myself. I am the Board Chair of Men Having Babies. The one thing I know for sure is that life is about trusting your instincts. Family is an instinct.
Anthony Brown