How to Address Parental Rights in Same-Sex Couples in North Carolina

Understanding Parental Rights for Same-Sex Couples in North Carolina

Parental rights for same-sex couples have been a complex and evolving area of family law in North Carolina. With the legalization of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court in 2015, there have been significant shifts in legal recognition and protections for same-sex parents. However, navigating these changes can still be challenging for many couples. This article provides guidance on addressing parental rights for same-sex couples in North Carolina.

Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Parenthood

Before the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges, North Carolina did not recognize same-sex marriages, which directly impacted parental rights. Post-2015, same-sex couples can marry, and with that, they generally receive the same legal presumptions of parentage that opposite-sex married couples do. This includes the presumption that a child born during the marriage is the legal child of both spouses.

Adoption and Second-Parent Adoption

Same-sex couples often turn to adoption to establish legal parental rights over non-biological children. In North Carolina, adoption laws allow for a step-parent to adopt their spouse's biological or adopted child through a process known as 'second-parent adoption.' This process is critical for non-biological parents to secure legal recognition as a parent.

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and Parental Rights

For couples using ART, such as in vitro fertilization or surrogacy, it's essential to understand that North Carolina law may not automatically recognize the non-biological parent's rights. Legal steps, including a pre-birth order or post-birth second-parent adoption, may be necessary to ensure both partners are legally recognized as parents.

Navigating Custody and Visitation Rights

In cases where a same-sex couple separates or divorces, custody and visitation rights can become contentious issues. It's paramount that both parents' rights are recognized and protected through legal documentation established during the relationship. Without this, a non-biological parent may face challenges in asserting their right to custody or visitation.

Protecting Parental Rights with Legal Documentation

To protect parental rights fully, same-sex couples should consider executing additional legal documents such as co-parenting agreements and healthcare powers of attorney for their children. These documents can provide added layers of protection, especially for non-biological parents.


Same-sex couples in North Carolina seeking to address parental rights must navigate a complex legal landscape. While marriage equality has opened doors for these couples, taking proactive steps through adoption, understanding ART laws, establishing clear custody arrangements, and drafting comprehensive legal documentation remain crucial to safeguarding parental rights.