International Fertility Law Group Blog: Second Parent Adoption Still Best Protection

2nd-Parent Adoption Remains Best Protection for LGBT Parents

Huffington Post recently published an article by guest writer Lora Liegel about her experience as a legally married lesbian mom compelled to undergo “second-parent” adoption of her son, Finn, in order to protect her family and her own parental rights. As I have heard so often from intended parents at our firm, International Fertility Law Group, being forced to undergo the stress, expense and inconvenience of adopting one’s own child can feel humiliating, alienating and unfair… and it is. Unfortunately, until uniform laws are adopted throughout the U.S., second-parent adoption is still the “gold standard” for protecting the rights of same-sex parents via assisted reproduction.

I recently returned from the National LGBT Bar Association meeting in New York City, where stories like Liegel’s, and the lessons and advice stemming from these stories, are repeatedly echoed and discussed. Liegel learned, as have so many LGBT parents and intended parents, that, even though same-sex marriage was legalized by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015, same-sex couples and LGBT individuals still are treated differently than heterosexuals when it comes to parentage laws.

As we reported shortly after that historic Supreme Court decision, the change in marriage law at the federal level still leaves states with the question of how to integrate the change with existing state statutes governing everything from the terminology used on official birth certificates to the parental status of surrogates.

The change in federal law left states to determine how to adapt their laws, rules, processes and official forms related to marriage and parentage to comply with the Supreme Court decision. Prior to June 2015, U.S. laws governing parentage, adoption and assisted reproduction technologies such as surrogacy, egg and sperm donation were a patchwork, differing from state to state. That patchwork still exists today, as state legislatures, state agencies and the courts try to hammer out the details of changes in the law, case by case. In the meantime, family law and ART attorneys counsel LGBT clients to continue taking extra measures to ensure their parental authority is recognized, regardless of where they travel.

Liegel’s son was conceived by anonymous sperm donation using her wife’s egg; her wife carried the baby and gave birth. With no biological relationship to her son, Liegel discovered, her parental rights could be in jeopardy:

After doing some research, I discovered that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is still legal in the majority of states. If I ever moved out of the “gay friendly” Northwest, my parental status might go unrecognized or be challenged. If our family went on vacation somewhere that did not recognize my relationship with my son, and he got sick, I could be denied access to his medical records, or not be able to make important decisions about his welfare. And even though we get along, Michelle’s relatives could fight for custody of Finn if she died. Sure, these scenarios may be unlikely, but they could happen.  

I discovered that adopting my son was the only way I could fully protect my parental rights, as an adoption legally recognized in one state must be legally recognized in all the others.

As I hear so often from clients at IFLG, Liesel felt insulted by being deemed the “second parent.”

Still, I couldn’t get that term ― “second parent” ― out of my head. In a heterosexual relationship, parents just get to be called mom and dad ― there is no “first” or “second.” Not only was I considered “second,” but I was being forced to navigate a complicated, confusing, and expensive legal system to be seen as a legitimate parent, something I already was. I felt like I was being told that I was lesser than ― that I was unequal ― and it made me furious, but I had no choice but to continue down the path I’d started.

Liesel’s story confirms the personal story I hear time and time again from our clients at IFLG of how hurtful it is to have to jump through so many seemingly pointless bureaucratic hoops to confirm and protect parental rights.  Liesel’s instinct to resist the necessity to “confirm” her “second-parent” status is also familiar. 

But to fully protect parental rights and the legal parent-child relationship from attack, it is critical to put emotions aside and consider the bigger picture. None of us can know the future, and even those most solid of relationships may change over time. Should your relationship with a partner end, should a partner or spouse die, should you require medical care for child while traveling through a Deep Red state… any of a number of scenarios could occur that could put your parental authority—and your child’s safety—in jeopardy. For now, even though it is not fair, the second-parent adoption process is the best way to protect LGBT parents (especially lesbian moms). Sadly, for now, we are in “defense” mode as some states resist advances to reproductive freedom and fight to strip rights from LGBT people. But the LGBT family law community is working to change parentage laws to provide permanent and equal protection for ALL families.


Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”


Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Los Angeles, CA 90036

Phone:  +1 323 331 9343



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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.