On March 7th 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court Unanimously Reversed Alabama’s Refusal to Recognize V.L.’s Out-of-State Adoption
E.L. and V.L. are two women who were in a long term relationship and had three children through donor insemination. The non-biological mother, V.L., adopted the children in Georgia. When the parents later broke up, the biological mother, E.L., kept V.L. from seeing the children. V.L. sought visitation in Alabama, where the family lives. E.L. opposed her request, arguing that the Georgia adoption was invalid in Alabama.
On September 18, 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an order refusing to recognize V.L.’s Georgia adoption and declaring that it is “void.” Even though V.L. raised the children from birth and both women participated in the adoption hearing and consented to the adoption, the Court broke with more than a century of precedent requiring states to honor court judgments from other states. Disregarding this clear precedent, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Alabama can treat the adoption as void based on the Alabama Supreme Court’s view that the Georgia court should not have granted the adoption in 2007.
The trial court had originally recognized V.L.’s adoption and granted V.L. visitation, but E.L. appealed the decision. The Court of Civil Appeals initially ruled that the adoption should not be respected in Alabama, but after V.L. and the guardian ad litems asked the court to rehear the case, the Court of Civil Appeals ruled that the adoption must be recognized. E.L. then sought review by the Alabama Supreme Court, which held that the adoption was void.
On November 16, 2015, V.L asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Alabama Supreme Court decision. She also asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency order permitting her to visit her children while her appeal is pending. In her request, V.L. noted that the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision is unprecedented. Before this ruling, no state supreme court in the country had refused to recognize a same-sex parent’s adoption from another state‚–or any out-of-state adoption‚–based on a disagreement with how the court issuing the adoption interpreted its own adoption laws.
On December 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court granted VL’s request for an emergency order permitting her to visit her three adopted children. The order suspended the Alabama Supreme Court decision refusing to recognize the mother’s adoption so that she will be able to have visitation pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of her case.
On March 7, 2016, the U.S. Supreme court unanimously reversed the Alabama Supreme Court decision refusing to recognize V.L.’s prior adoption of her three children in Georgia. The summary reversal restores V.L. full rights as an adoptive parent.
V.L is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Adam Unikowsky and Paul Smith of Jenner & Block, and Alabama attorneys Heather Fann of Boyd, Fernambucq, Dunn & Fann, P.C., and Traci Vella of Vella & King, Attorneys at Law.