Arizona Same-Sex Couples Who Adopted Before Supreme Court Decision Face Legal Limbo

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Monday, September 14, 2015 - 8:16am
Updated: Monday, September 14, 2015 - 10:13am
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Same-sex couples can now get married and jointly adopt children. But before the U.S. Supreme Court decision this June, many couples adopted by licensing only one parent. That legal workaround solved the problem — as long the parents stayed together.  

Susan Doty-Perez and her soon-to-be ex-wife Tonya adopted five children during the four years they were together. But legally, only Tonya adopted the children because at the time only one mother could be on the adoption license.

Although not on the legal form, Doty-Perez said she is as much of a parent to her children. She stopped working to take care of them.

“They were used to seeing me every day,” she said. “I would sing them nap songs and get them to eat their breakfast and all the funny quirky things that go along with being a stay-at-home mom.”

Now that they are separating, Tonya has all legal rights to the children. Doty-Perez was able to get limited visitation but can’t get shared legal decision making, more commonly known as custody.

“I kinda just disappeared,” Doty-Perez said.

Doty-Perez isn’t legally recognized as a parent and therefore she isn’t even eligible for shared legal decision making.

Her attorney, Leslie Satterlee, plans to change that by arguing that Susan is in fact a legal parent.

"We are trying to find a retroactive application to change an adoption and an adoption certificate," Satterlee said.

Attorneys used legal workarounds to get adoptions through the courts, which Satterlee said was helpful at the time.

“Right now it’s a square peg in a round hole.” Satterlee said. “Trying to apply these unique situations with the changing culture and times and the reality of what family looks like today to what the traditional notions were and how the statutes were written in the past doesn’t work.”

In a similar case in 2002, the court ruled joint custody could not be granted between a legal and non-legal parent.

Satterlee said since Arizona judges have declined to interpret family law to include same-sex couples, the way to fix the law to include these families would be legislative action. 

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