Jessica and Aundrea Dybing-Jorgensen - Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Jessica and Aundrea Dybing-Jorgensen live in Sioux Falls,
South Dakota, with their five-year old twin daughters, Morgan and Mitra.
gave birth to the girls while she was in a relationship with a man, but later
the girls’ biological father dropped out of their life. Aundrea immediately felt very connected to
the girls and spent a lot of time with them. The couple realized they needed to
legally protect their family and ensure that both Jessica and Aundrea were
recognized as the girls’ mothers. As Jessica explains, “We've gone through a
lot of battles to get our family to the place where we are now. Though we
have never felt our family was any less important when we first met, we feel
that we've had to jump through hoops for society and the law to accept our
family, even though it still isn't looked at equally compared to a family with
a mom and a dad.”
In 2009, Jessica and Aundrea had a commitment ceremony in South Dakota. “We had rings, a clergy member, and family and friends, but no legal ‘marriage’,” Jessica says. The couple felt that it was important to share with their family and friends, as well as their daughters, that they were a family and were committed to one another, even if they couldn’t legally marry in South Dakota. Two years later, when marriage was made available to same-sex couples in Iowa, the couple went there to become legally married.
But because South Dakota doesn’t recognize Jessica and Aundrea’s relationship, the couple needed figure out a way to create a legal relationship between Aundrea and the couple’s daughters.
First, the couple tried to find an attorney who could petition to have the girls’ biological father’s parental rights terminated. In Sioux Falls, it was hard to find an attorney who was comfortable helping them. Fortunately, Jessica and Aundrea are well-connected to the LGBT community in Sioux Falls, and they were able to find an attorney who had helped other LGBT families. The first attorney told Jessica, “I really want to help you. And I will help you. But to be honest, you can’t afford me. But, my colleague, she charges less and she’s great. And she has experience with second-parent adoptions in South Dakota.”
This was the first time that the couple had heard about a second-parent adoption in South Dakota. Unlike a step-parent adoption, which doesn’t require a home visit, the couple needed to find a social worker who would do a home visit, pay additional feels, and then go before a judge to have the second-parent adoption granted.
As the couple explained to their daughters, “We’re filling out all this paperwork and going before a judge so that no one can say that your Mama [Aundrea] is not your Mama.” The couple wanted to make sure that if someone happened to Jessica, the girls would be able to stay win Aundrea. Initially the couple worried about finding the right social worker and judge in Sioux Falls, but again connection to the LGBT community led them to social worker Marlene Schulz.
The judge granted the second-parent adoption, and both Jessica and Aundrea are now listed on the girls’ birth certificates and recognized as their legal parents. Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a spot on the South Dakota birth certificate for Parent 1/Parent 2, so Aundrea’s name is in the spot marked “Father.” As Jessica explains, “When we took the birth certificate to sign the girls up for school, we had to explain to the teachers and administrators that while it says Mother/Father, Morgan and Mitra have two moms – me and Aundrea.”
Carrie and Lisa - North Carolina
From the minute Carrie and Lisa met, they knew that they wanted to expand their family together. Lisa already had two sons from a previous marriage, so it made sense for Carrie to be the one to get pregnant. In the midst of planning for the arrival of their daughter, Zoë, Carrie and Lisa never questioned that they would both be Zoë’s parents. But after talking to friends who had also had children, the couple realized that their options were limited in North Carolina.
First, the health clinic they used for insemination (the only clinic that would perform the procedure for same-sex couples within a 150 mile radius) required them to undergo counseling sessions – something not required for straight couples.
Then a lawyer told them that they could try to get a second-parent adoption, which would allow Lisa to establish a legal connection to Zoë, but that it could cost between $5,000 and $7,000 and that depending on the state’s political climate, it could be negated. The couple decided they didn’t want to go through the rigorous process and spend so much money only to have it undone. In fact, just last year, a judge in North Carolina invalidated second-parent adoptions throwing many families adoptions into jeopardy.
Now that Zoë is 2 years old, Carrie and Lisa have done the best they can without a legal parent-child relationship between Lisa and their daughter. For example, Carrie filled out paperwork at school to let Lisa pick up Zoë from school and take Zoë to her doctors’ appointments. They’ve met with a lawyer to try to replicate the legal protections that they can’t get through marriage and adoption, such as wills, parenting agreements, and health care directives. Fortunately, Lisa’s employer has an expansive and inclusive idea of family and allowed Lisa to take maternity leave and enroll both Carrie and Zoë in her health insurance.
Despite these protections, Carrie worries what would happen to Zoë if she were to get sick while in Pennsylvania visiting Lisa’s family. Without Carrie there, would the hospital let Lisa make medical decisions? And while Carrie’s family is very supportive of her relationship with Lisa, Carrie wonders if she were to die unexpectedly, would her family honor her wishes to have Zoë grow up with Lisa?
Just before Zoë’s 2nd birthday, some of these medical issues were tested as Zoë spent two weeks in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit with a life-threatening illness. While most of the hospital staff was accommodating, they did request copies of Lisa’s health care power of attorney to allow her to stay in the ICU with Carrie and Zoë. The couple’s lawyer was working on the final draft of it at the time of Zoë’s hospitalization and, luckily, was able to quickly complete it and fax it to the hospital. Carrie wonders how she would have made it through those two agonizing weeks if Lisa had not been allowed to remain by her side, and the effect that Lisa’s absence could have had on Zoë’s recovery.
Even with all these questions and concerns, Carrie and Lisa focus on providing for their spirited daughter and surrounding her with people who care for and value her. With a child, Carrie explains, “We can’t tip toe around because of other people’s discomfort. We have to be upfront and make sure that our daughter’s needs are taken care of.”
Carrie and Lisa's story was featured on ABC News. Read the article >