Issue: Families & Parenting


When NCLR was founded 30 years ago, nearly all the cases on our docket were about ensuring LGBT parents could keep custody of their children after they came out. Our 30 years of legal victories have changed the legal landscape for all LGBT parents and families. But we know there is still so much more to be done. State by state, NCLR is making sure that all children raised and parented by LGBT people—regardless of whether those parents are single, in a relationship, have legal paperwork in place, or are biologically related to their children—are provided with the legal protections that all children need.

Family law has been the cornerstone of NCLR's legal work since its inception. We were among the first to pioneer the concept of second-parent adoption and since then, we've worked to protect our families one state at a time. Today, second-parent adoptions are available in over 30 states and we continue to make progress and defend the hard-earned protections we’ve already won. Our families are under siege, and our opponents have used the advances made by LGBT individuals and communities as a rallying cry for conservatives. But our resolve remains strong and, in spite of such adversity, we have made key civil rights advances on nearly every front in the areas of family protection.

While we are proud of our tremendous success in protecting our families and expanding the availability of second-parent adoptions, this is not the end of the struggle. Less than half of the states permit second-parent adoptions statewide, and even where they are available, many families are not able to take advantage of these protections. Each year thousands of children are denied visitation rights and vital financial benefits—like a child's social security survivor benefits—because their relationship with their second parent is not legally recognized. To bring an end to these tragic stories, we are working to ensure that both members of same-sex couples, as well as transgender parents, are recognized as legal parents. In Florida, we are working tirelessly to overturn a discriminatory adoption ban which prevents LGBT people from adopting or becoming foster parents. And in 2006, NCLR launched the Family Protection Project, which works to improve access to family law services for low-income same-sex parent families, with a focus on serving families of color.

families & parenting | history

Family and parenting law was the catalyst for NCLR’s founding. In 1977, then known as the Lesbian Rights Project (LRP), our primary focus was on assisting lesbians who were losing custody of their children. Along with litigation, free legal assistance and information, and public education were central to LRP’s legal strategy—and still is today at NCLR. In 1983, we won a landmark case when we secured custody for client Sharon Johnson and her son, Daimien. Three years later, we helped two lesbians, Annie Affleck and Rebecca Smith, jointly adopt their daughter—one of the first such adoptions in the country. Throughout our thirty-year history, NCLR has emerged as a visionary leader in LGBT family law. In 2006, we expanded our innovative work with the launch of the Family Protection Project. Indeed, the foundation of work has also proven our hallmark, and we are proud to continue ensuring protection for all LGBT families.

the family protection project

NCLR is a leading architect of advocacy for low-income LGBT families and their children, with a particular focus on LGBT families of color. Children with same-sex parents often do not have a legal relationship to at least one of their parents. As a result, they can be denied social security benefits or can end up in foster care if their legal parent dies. In almost every state, LGBT families can take at least some affirmative steps to protect their parent-child relationships, but these steps require the aid of an attorney, and are thus out of reach for many families. Our Family Protection Project supports and expands free and low-cost family law services for low-income same-sex parent families, with a focus on serving families of color, to empower them to protect their parent-child relationships.

the national family law advisory council

Over the past three decades, we have partnered with talented attorneys across the nation to advance the rights and protections of LGBT parents and families. In 2003, NCLR convened a group of experienced family law and estate planning attorneys from around the country to discuss family formation and protection issues, evaluating national trends and state-by-state cases. The meeting proved to be invaluable to both NCLR and the private practitioners involved in addressing the ever-evolving legal challenges LGBT families face. The group has continued to grow and meet annually, and in 2006, was formally formed as NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council.

The Council consists of 43 family law attorneys from more than fifteen states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington D.C., Washington state, and Wisconsin.

San Francisco attorney Deborah Wald is the founding Chair.

families & parenting | how we can help

Please contact NCLR today if:

  • You need help in legally protecting your family
  • You need information about custody or adoption
  • You are not being allowed to see your child because you are LGBT
  • An institution (school, hospital, etc.) is not recognizing you or your partner as parents

national family law advisory council members

  • Chair: Deborah Wald, Esq.- California
  • Lauren Barros, Esq. - Utah
  • Jane Bassett, Esq. - Michigan
  • Suzanne Bryant, Esq. - Texas
  • Carol Buell, Esq. - New York
  • Lee Carpenter, Esq. - Pennsylvania
  • Mariette Geldenhuys, Esq. - New York
  • Laura Gray, Esq. - Utah
  • Kathie Gummere, Esq. - Arizona
  • Janet Helson, Esq. - Washington
  • Joan Hollinger, Esq. - California
  • Debra Hunt, Esq. - Texas
  • Courtney Joslin, Esq. - California
  • Eva Juncker, Esq. - Virginia
  • Joyce Kauffman, Esq. - Massachusetts
  • Deb Kinney, Esq. - California
  • Karen Langsley, Esq. - Texas
  • Allison Mendel, Esq. - Alaska
  • Connie Moore, Esq. - Texas
  • Patricia Novotny, Esq. - Washington
  • Tiffany Palmer, Esq. - Pennsylvania
  • Lynn Perls, Esq. - New Mexico
  • Nancy Polikoff, Esq. - District of Columbia
  • Raegen Rasnic, Esq. - Washington
  • Abby Rubenfeld, Esq. - Tennessee
  • Elizabeth Schwartz, Esq. - Florida
  • Julie Shapiro, Esq. - Washington
  • Susan Silber, Esq. - Maryland
  • William Singer, Esq. - New Jersey
  • Judith Sperling-Newton, Esq. - Wisconsin
  • Lori M. Surmay, Esq. - Georgia
  • Kimberly M. Surrat, Esq. - Nevada
  • Sharon Thompson, Esq. - North Carolina
  • Judith Turkel, Esq. - New York
  • Arabia Vargas, Esq. - Texas
  • Bradley Weidemann, Esq. - North Carolina
  • Richard Wilson, Esq. - Illinois
  • Claudia Work, Esq. - Arizona
  • Michele Zavos, Esq. - District of Columbia & Maryland

Deborah Wald, Esq.

Deborah H. Wald is the founder and senior partner at Wald & Thorndal. Her work has evolved over the past 15 years from a part-time home-based LGBT family formation law practice, to a multi-disciplinary full service family law firm addressing the legal needs of all contemporary families. The firm’s legal services include assisted reproduction, surrogacy, adoption, parentage actions, divorce, mediation, custody, and appeals.

A teacher as well as a lawyer, Ms. Wald uniquely blends a practitioner's experience with national and historical perspectives. She is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco Law School, where she teaches an upper level seminar entitled "Topics in Contemporary Family Law," covering a broad range of cutting-edge family law issues. Her law review articles include, The Parentage Puzzle, published in the Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law in 2007; and Integrated Approaches to Solving Same-Sex Dissolutions published in Conflict Resolution Quarterly in 2009.

Ms. Wald speaks nationally on contemporary family law issues. Recent venues include the American Society of Reproductive Medicine Annual Conference; Williams Institute at UCLA; KQED Forum; American Bar Association Section on Dispute Resolution; California Women's Commission; the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA); Family Law Institute of the Center for Judicial Education & Research; and both American University and Northeastern University Schools of Law.

Ms. Wald is a member of the American Academy of Assisted Reproduction Technology Attorneys, and a member of the ACAL/ACFFL, the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers and Academy of California Family Formation Lawyers.


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