Adult Adoption: What Can We Learn From This?

This story was on MSNBC’s website yesterday and it’s been making me think.  Sandra and Ross Titus recently adopted Jillian.  The thing is, Jillian is 29. (Sandra and Ross are in their forties, but this seems less important to me.)   They all work together at Nintendo, outside Seattle, WA. 

Adoption is, of course, the legal process by which a person or people become legal parents of a child, replacing some other set of parents.   Adoption of adults is much less common and in some ways quite different from adoption of infants/children, but the process is essentially similar.    It’s the combination of sameness/difference that makes this story thought-provoking to me. 

For one thing, it would seem that at 29 you are entitled to make this decision (obviously together with the people who plan to adopt you) and thus, the role of the state as screener should be diminished.  This does seem to be the case–there’s no home study (at least in Washington) in an adult adoption.   Frankly, I don’t see why any outsider  would have the right to object to the process the parties here had in mind.    

Notably, while it appears that the adoption does terminate the rights of the preceding set of parents (in this case, the birth parents) they don’t have any right to object to it.   That’s different from where the person to be adopted is a child.   In those instances, the original parents must either agree to their termination of their parental rights or there must be a basis for terminating them.  

Now why would that be different with an adult adoption?  If the protection of parental rights justifies the process with regard to a minor child, why don’t the parental rights require the same process if the child is grown?   

There’s been a lot of discussion of birth certificates here on the blog.    After an adoption is completed, it is common to issue a new birth certificate with the names of the adoptive parents on it.   (I know this makes some of you crazy–and there’s lots of discussion of that elsewhere.)   That’s what was done here, too.  

This seems to me quite striking.   In other places I’ve pointed out that parents (and here I mean legal parents) need birth certificates to register kids for school and sports and such like.  As long as birth certificates are the required paper for these purposes, it seems only reasonable (to me) to give the adoptive parents the paper they need.  

But none of that stuff is at issue here.   Jillian Titus is perfectly capable of managing all the details of her life on her own.   Yet the birth certificate is obviously important to the people involved.   It seems to me that this isn’t about deceiving anyone but rather as a form of affirmance of the new parent/child relationship.   It seems to me the importance of the birth certificate is at least in large measure symbolic. 

And this brings me to a larger point about the role of law in our lives.  I’ve often talked about the importance of legal, as opposed to social, status as a parent.   Legal parents have important rights and obligations vis-a-vis their children.   When Sandra and Ross Titus became legal parents to Jillian these rights and obligations (to the extent they apply to adults) were assigned to them.   But the rights and obligations of a parent are much less important with respect to adult children, who make their own decisions.      

But it seems clear to me that this adoption isn’t only about legal rights and obligations.   As with the birth certificate, there is an enormously important symbolic/emotional value to the legal process.   This adoption isn’t just about rights and obligations–it is a statement of the permanent commitment this family chooses to establish.   

That’s an aspect of law that perhaps I have not emphasized enough.  We tend to give law enormous symbolic importance.   Having relationships recognized in law affirms their validity in countless intangible ways.  (This is part of why the struggle for access to marriage for same sex couples continues even where same sex couples can enter into legally recognized relations that bring with them the rights/obligations of marriage.)     It’s certainly true that law operates on a practical level, assigning rights and obligations.  But perhaps it is just as important that it operates on a symbolic level, affirming the legally-recognized relationships as worthy of societal recognition.       


54 responses to “Adult Adoption: What Can We Learn From This?

  1. marilynn huff

    Yes its very sweet. This young woman must be a really nice girl and a good friend for that couple to want to help her wipe out her debt and start over that way.

    She’ll get a new birth certificate with her new adopted parent’s names on it so she can get a new social security number and card – fresh start, clean slate. If she does not change her name from the name her parents gave her it will hardly disrupt her life at all.

    Her parent’s might agree if her debt is truly insurmountable. Its not like being someone else’s adopted daughter ends their parent child relationship. She’ll still be able to inherit from them especially if she does not change her name. What will says ” ..and to my lovely devoted daughter, Jenifer (SS#888-88-8888) I leave the house in the Hampton’s and the yacht in Cape Cod.”

    Its a scam Julie. Remember that lawyer with the dogs that killed Dianne Whipple here in SF? She and her husband adopted one of their clients who was incarcerated. Presumably so that when he got out he’d have a clean identity. Who the f knows. Its inspired really.

    • I find your response really troubling. What makes you assume it is a scam? Or maybe more importantly, why should I accept your assertion? I’m not saying it is impossible–all sorts of things can be done as scams. Sham marriages, say. But you can also do the same things for the best of reasons. Who is it to say that these people are not acting out of a sense of love and commitment. What do you know about their lives that allows you to cavalierly label this as a ruse?

      People do use the law as a way to make manifest their commitments to each other. It seems to me that could be exaclty what these people were doing. I see nothing here to support your suspcions.

      I assume, by the way, that the concern you raise is the sort of thing the judge might actually consider. And I don’t know that she’d get a new SSN.

      • I see Marilyn’s point. It may not apply to this particular woman, but the structure seems almost designed for these purposes…
        I suppose it doesn’t happen more because most people don’t imagine such a thing could exits! That an adult could suddenly declare another adult her mother and the law would recognize it. (could i declare a dear friend of mine who is actually a few years older than me as my daughter? and then perhaps a new birth certificate as well????)
        I am more opposed to this idea than to gay marriage and i’ve been pretty vocal about that! But this totally takes any and all meaning away from the idea of a parent-child relationship. And If they were to have sex, it wouldn’t be incest either.

        • I actually don’t see the fraud potential that worries you. It does not give you a new identity–it does not allow you to erase your debts or anything like that. It’s true that many of the same things could be accomplished without the adoption–the potential adoptive parent(s) could write wills leaving stuff to the potential adoptive child and so on. (The reverse is also true–the adoption could be completed but wills could be written that directed property away from the adoptive relatives.)

          That just takes me back to the point that this is largely symbolic. But it is an important symbol. This is the way folks can publically delare what they mean to each other. It isn’t just that they are like her parents–they ARE her parents, from this point forward.

          There may be some government benefits for which this could matter–I’ll have to think about that. But I don’t get the feeling that is what you are worried about.

          And for what it is worth–I think it would be incest. Not that I think that’s at issue.

          • Sorry I don’t understand that last phrase? “Not that I think that’s at issue” Do you mean you don’t find it relevant to the discussion? Or that you don’t think it’s important if it would occur? please clarify

            • “This is the way folks can publically delare what they mean to each other.”
              Ok, so what does a parent mean? What possible definition can “parent” have that applies to this relationship? Genetic? nope. Pregnancy? nope. Having raised and cared for the other in childhood? Nope. Custody and decision making power over the other? Nope, an adult is in her own custody.
              What we’re left with is not what a parent means but “what it means to THEM” ie some kind of nebulous pyschological thing specific to that individual. That’s not what law is about. Law is based on definitions that are actually related to the relevance of the term for society. .
              Especially to you Julie- since you’ve strongly identified caregiving activities as the primary criteria of parenthood, I fail to understand why this arrangement makes sense to you. A non disabled adult doesn’t need a caregiver.

              • True enough–this is not the standard child/adult caretaker relationship that I think lies at the heart of parentage. And that makes your question a fair one to press me on.

                Let me set aside for a moment what I think about this process just to emphasize the main point I meant to make–this case (and others like it) demonstrate the importance of law and legal status in people’s minds. This is at least in part about law as statement rather than law as actual rights/obligations. It’s just important to see that many people think about law in this way, at least some of the time.

                Now for what I think: I don’t think the parents here could qualify as de facto parents. They have not “qualified” by virtue of their performance of parenting tasks. But this isn’t a case about de facto parentage, it’s an adoption case. I haven’t been at all clear about this in the past, but it seems to me that adoption is really a parallel route for establishing parentage. In adoption of infants the people who adopt often have not served as parents before the adoption is completed, though sometimes they have, as when foster parents adopt. I’m not going to say that adoption in the absence of an existing parent/child relationship should be impossible, but you might make me defend that. I’ll have to give is some thought.

                What’s going on here is different as it is adult adoption. You can fairly ask about whether this should ever be allowed, but I can also ask why it shouldn’t be allowed. It does have symbolic meaning. All the parties are competent adults. What’s the rationale for saying no?

                • “what’s the rationale for saying no”
                  interesting idea. must the government consecrate every whim of its citizens, unless one can point to a clearly delineated harm? Especially when the wish goes against common use of language and kin structure as we know it.

                  • I don’t think that the government needs to satisfy every whim of its citizens at all. But we can start by agreeing that adoption does exist (and should exist) and that it is a good thing. Why do you then say to someone “You are too old to be adopted?” It’s not like the people here want to do something that is really odd–it’s just unusual for people in their age group. But why not let them?

                  • “why not let them?”
                    It isn’t permission they seek; its recognition.
                    They are allowed to engage in any behavior that they consider as reflective of a parent-child relationship. They and only they, mind you, since the rest of society views parenthood as a relationship that begins in childhood.
                    For recognition, you’ve gotta be in line with the way the institution functions in the rest of society. I can’t suddenly declare that orange is green.

              • Yeah but Kisarita Julie always is saying it matters what the kid thinks – does the kid think of a person as a parent then they are.

                I think to Julie it makes no difference if the kid thinks the person is a parent because that person lied to the kid and told them they were their parent or if the kid attaches to the person for whatever reason and wants to call that person Mom. If the kid thinks it so shall it be.

                • I want to clarify this statement of what I often say. I am not sure if you’ll think I’m changing it or not.

                  One thing we might want to take into account (and I say “might” because people disagree about this) when figuring out which people are parents is what is best for the child. Apart from that, we might also want to take into account a child’s wishes. (I would never say that the child’s wishes should be dispostive. I think it is quite common for children not to know what is best for them.)

                  This makes it useful to think about things from the child’s point of view–not because it necessarily tells you what the law should be, but because it is valuable perspective to consider. And then we come to what you say—the child’s point of view might be quite limited. So for example, babies may be switched at birth–knowingly or by accident. A child knows nothing of that. A child knows the home in which the child is being raised. If you will allow me to assume, for a moment, that the people raising the child are loving and competent, then that’s what the child experiences.

                  Obviously this can get more complicated as the child ages. But I do find it helpful to consider what the child’s view of things would be, and this often has the effect of making adult behavior less important. The question, then, is what you do with that information.

            • Sorry–I meant I don’t see any suggestion of anything like incest in this case.

              It might be relevant to the general discussion. It’s a reason why one ought not use adoption to substitute for a romantic couple relationship.

          • “It does not give you a new identity”

            Ok, depends upon how one defines identity. I’m thinking identity in terms of a person’s name and age and corroborating legal documentation that would go along with it. The article says a new birth certificate was issued and that she chose to take her new adoptive parent’s last names.

            What would be unique about adult adoption over another kind of name change like getting married or simply petitioning the court for a name change is that you don’t get a new birth certificate to go with your new name. My brother changed his name to my Dad’s name when he turned 18 and now he can’t ever leave the country because his birth certificate does not match his other documents, he’s thinking of changing his name back to his dad’s name now that “our dad” has passed just so he can go on a cruise and drink stuff with umbrellas in it. Getting married you don’t get a new birth certificate either.

            This chick got a new birth certificate. I’m just saying the opportunity to walk away from debt is there. Adopting an adult has little more than symbolic meaning as far as the parent child relationship goes but it does appear to be somewhat of a financial planning tool – as its practical implications appear to be primarily financial.

            • I don’t see that the opportunity to walk away from a debt is really any greater than any time a person changes their name. You change your name, you get a new license and all that. There’s a way, I imagine, that the names are linked like through the SSN. I’ll be the credit rating angencies are all over this one. After all, many women change their names when they marry.

  2. marilynn huff

    I’ve been reading and I should get you the links. The federal government requires States to register births and marriages and deaths and to collect very specific information – in fact the feds were pushing for and got some kind of standardized format for the collection of that information. The birth information to be collected is very very detailed and it uses words like maternal, maternity paternal and paternity throughout the form which has lots and lots of questions about medical history. Its very pointedly intended to collect information about the childs actual parents as opposed to adoptive parents or intended parents or gestational carriers. It falls short of point blank asking if the child is the mother and father’s offspring. It asks about IVF, but not about if the egg belonged to someone else.

    Of course sending the feds names of people who are not actually the child’s parents messes with the statistics their collecting which I think is a monumental waste of tax money. We might as well just stop doing
    medical research based on the information being collected because the margin of error i
    based on falsely reported identities must be enormous. The number of Mother’s who step on their children’s relationships with fathers has expanded enormously with artificial insemination and now Father’s are added to the mix wanting to step on their children’s relationships with mother’s. Entering a spouse or significant other as the other parent on a birth record undermines the accuracy of data collected and throws the whole countries birth statistics off.

    When birth certificates are reissued upon adoption, its not like the old birth certificate goes away or is really sealed. The people named on that certificate can walk into the hall of records and get a copy, the mother and father can if they have ID that alligns with the name on the certificate. So could the child as an adult – but only if they had ID with a name that matched the certificate, and they won’t have that so they can’t get a copy.
    The new birth certificates are not real, they don’t get sent to the federal government like real birth certificates do which I think should be the basis for a law suit. The feds should tell the states not to call the documents issued at adoption birth certificates, because that person already exists under another name. There is the very real possibility that the parents could file for a social security card for the child using the original birth certificate and the adopted parents could file for another social security card using the fake birth certificate. The feds want States to reconcile their birth records with the social security death index. Not an easy task at all considering all the adopted kids were born and went into limbo they never die. What they need is a single document that gets amended for any identity changes and everyone named on it would have access to all previous versions of it. Something, I don’t know they need to do something differently than now.

  3. Am i the only one who finds the idea of adult adoption pointless?
    As an adult, you don’t need someone to raise you and take care of you, ie play a parental role.
    If you have someone you’d like to have a close intimate familial relationship, go ahead and do it. What does a government have to do with anything
    And if that person is a somewhat older person than you, even from another generation, that doesn’t make her your mother. You’re both adults. It just makes her an older friend. The time to establish tghat sort of relationship is past.
    Seems to me when we start tweaking definitions there’s no end. First we remove the biological to the component, now the social and what are we left with? a mother is whatever I say it is

    • Actually, the legal pointlessness of it is what I think is interesting. If it doesn’t have much legal meaning (and I agree with you that it doesn’t) then what is the point? It seems to me the point is that the legal rituatl has meaning, even if it does not have legal effect. This is important. I also think it is more true in the US than in many places. We think a lot about law here–we claim rights of one sort or another. And so claiming the legal status–like getting married when you are already domestic partners–has meaning.

      • It’s interesting people don’t comprehend adult adoption. (ki sharit, and huff in the comments)

        For example, I am about to have a final hearing for my step father to adopt me. (I’m an adult) . I knew him since I was 3 years old. he also raised me, just never married my mother because she passed away when I was 16. He choose to take care of me afterwards. Yet he had no obligation to.My father was never in the picture since I was born. So to have my step father (the only father I knew) ask if I wanted to be adopted was incredible. It definitely heals wounds. Growing up in school, I always added my step fathers last name to everything. I was always hiding mail addressed to him that gave away he had another last name to avoid the step dad explanation, which normally forced me to explain my mothers death.

        For legal reasons, I was not allowed to use my step fathers last name (obviously), so I was forced to use the last name of a person I never knew, instead of the only dad I did know. (my step father). I felt no connection towards my biological fathers name. Many adopted children feel the same. The father or mom connection is missing. Adult adoption is not pointless, it varies case by case. In my situation my mothers death when I was 16 prevented my step father from adopting me since we had a lot of stuff going on. As I got older, he thought I didn’t want to be adopted. The complication of my mother not being able to allow him to legally adopt me with her signature, forced me to wait till when I became an adult.

        • I think this is great that your step father is going to adopt you. This legally confirms a parental-like relationship that already existed. My objection is regarding so-called adoptions where no such parent-child relationship ever existed, which in my opinion, must begin in childhood, as the term itself indicates.

  4. I am reminded of the Boson Legal episode where Denny marries Alan. Two straight men using a gay friendly law to an end of insuring Alan will inherit at Denny’s death.

    The fact remains that we do not know the reasons for this adoption. I would suggest that the positive reasons outweigh the negative.

    BTW, under typical probate codes, an adoption terminates the parent-child relationship, thus terminating any access to assets if the decedent dies intestate.

    • There are instances where lesbian and gay couples, denied all other recognition, have used adoption.
      It does seem to me that where you are a couple and where what you really want to be is married, that adoption is a poor substitute. The parent/child relationship does not parallel the adult couple relationship of marriage. And as you can see from that Maine case, there are unintended consequences to be wary of–adoption isn’t like marriage because there’s no equivilant of divorce.

      That said, if it is the only way to gain recognition of some legal relationship, maybe it is understandable that people do that.

      • The Maine case is a great example of why there should be no such thing as adult adoption. Because in adoption there is no such thing as a divorce!
        In relationships entered into by adults, such as marriage and civil unions, we accept the necessity of divorce option. Why should Jillian and the Titus couple not have that option?
        These types of relationships are two different animals and should not have the same legal status!
        If the Titus marriage should break up due to divorce or widowhood, there is no reason in the world why Jillian should not have a sexual relationship with Mr. Titus if it was mutually desired. There would be nothing abnormal or unhealthy about it.

        That is why I brought up incest- to show that child adoptions and adults are apples and oranges!

        I would be much more understanding if adult adoptions were confined to retroactively recognizing relationship that already existed by biological fact or from childhood.

        • Adoption is always an individual procedure, even though it appears in adult adoptions there is less attention to things like a home study. Probably a judge should have flagged that Maine case and said “hey–this doesn’t really look anything like an adoption.” Similarly, if it appears that the adoption is motivated by fraud of some sort, than you can weed those out.

          It’s true about divorce, though. I would imagine there’s rather a long discussion of that in the course of an adult adoption. (Although oddly, the article notes that she could terminate her relationship to the Tituses by having yet someone else adopt her.)

          But I think you’re raising a broader point which is interesting. Without having thought about it very much, I’d say that the parent/child relationship (which is what is created by adoption) is fundamentally different from the spousal relationship. It might be interesting to see if I could articulate what I think the differences are. (It’s worth noting that a number of states do not require a set age difference, which eliminates one possible difference.) If they are different, than one cannot substitute for another.

          Of cousre, generally people do not get to pick their parents or their children, while people do get to pick their spouses most of the time these days. Adult adoption doesn’t conform to this–is that at the heart of the problem?

          • that is only one difference. the primary difference is that the parent child relationship is that of a ward status.
            as adults, the relationship is defined based on the past.
            My mother is my mother not because I visit her on weekends
            I visit her on weekends because she is my mother. The definition of the relationship is based on the fact that she is biologically relationed, and that I was her ward for the first 20 years of my life.
            Incest is a primary marker of a family relationship. We consider incest unnatural and unhealthy EVEN when it occurs among consenting adults.

            • Even though I haven’t had time to figure out what I do think the essence of parent/child relationships are, I am pretty sure I disagree with this. (I’m not entirely sure what “ward status” is, though.)

              I don’t think the relationship of parent/child is defined based on the past (and of course, I don’t by the biology part, either, but that’s hardly news.) It has a past, but so does a pair/marriage relationship. It also has a present and a future.

              One thing I’ve been thinking about, which perhaps which fits with your ideas, is that the idealized marriage/partner relationship is one of equality where the idealized parent/child relationship is not. What I mean is that the partners in a marriage (or a marriage-like relationship) are understood to be equals. But parents and children aren’t seen that way. Children do, as you say, begin as being dependant on parents. Of course in the end, many parents are dependant on their children. And in the middle there may be equality in some regards. But it isn’t an equal relationship.

              A friend of mine once said that her children (now grown) were the most important people in her life but that she was not the most important person in their lives (they are married and they have kids of their own) and that this was exactly how it should be. I found that stunning, poingnant, maybe even sad. But as my own kids age I also see that it is true. I would hope never to make a similar statement about a partner/spouse relationship.

    • Finally! A person who speaks with intelligence. “The fact remains that we do not know the reasons for this adoption.” It’s as simple as that.

      I assure you, there are no negatives involved in this instance, except for the outrageous and ridiculous “facts” that people simply pull from.. er… the air. Example: “This young woman must be a really nice girl and a good friend for that couple to want to help her wipe out her debt and start over that way.” What debt? Legal adult adoptions do not address debt — at least not in Washington, which is the extent of my experience. I can accept that people don’t agree with adult adoption or even think it should be a legal option, but making stuff up and presenting it as fact, as if you know what you’re talking about, is lame.

      To quote one of Jillian’s new Grandma’s, (to Jillian) “You must be awfully special to inspire such love in Ross & Sandra.” Granny knows what she’s talking about.

      Oh, and a note about wills, they can be contested. Legal adult adoption, not so much.

      Julie, thank you for your insightful, respectful, and factual discussion.

      • This is such a good reminder for all of us. This whole discussion started from a specific news story about a particular family. None of us (save perhaps for Mama, but I’m not sure) really knows the details of the story beyond what is in the paper. I think it is fine to use the story as a jumping off point fo discussion and I think the discussion of adult adoption has been important and interesting. That discussion reasonably moves to generalizations.

        There are perhaps two things to keep in mind as we go down this path (which I think I do as much as anyone, and which I do repeatedly on this blog because I use news stories as taking off points.) First, I don’t know the specifics. The specific case may be an exception to the generalizations I want to make. Who can say? But it seems to me that conceding lack of knowledge is essential to respecting those involved in the individual case.

        Second, my generalizations may be right and they may be wrong. Some I’m more sure about than others, and of cousre the same is true for those of other commenters. To be more concrete, I don’t know what a typical adult adoption looks like. I don’t think the assumption that it is somehow fraudulent is a fair assumption, but the bottom line is that I don’t know.

        Which means my bottom line, I suppose, is that we must be clear about what we do not know and we ought to respect the individual experiences out there, even as we try to derive more general rules.

      • Mama
        I’m terribly sorry to have offended you. I mean that. I’m not flippant or sarcastic about stuff like this. I do however have a big mouth and all sorts of opinions. Sometimes I get ahead of myself. So excuse me. I don’t know anything about adult adoption and in fact I really don’t have anything against it and I do wholeheartedly believe people ultimately form the social families they want to form picking certain people who are like a mother or like a sister. Its not a bad thing.

        I was reacting to the fact that the young woman in the story changed her name to theirs. What is unique about an adoptive name change as opposed to say getting married or just petitioning the court to change your name is that a new birth certificate is issued. So the opportunity to start existing under the new name with a clean slate is very much there and adult adoption has been used this way for people leaving prison, Its been explained here that adult adoption is sometimes used as a financial planning tool. Those are all very real practical reasons for undertaking an adult adoption.

        I am sorry for jumping to judgement that there must be some practical financial motivation for this adoption. Since an a healthy adult does not need anyone to take care of them and make decisions for them like a kid does and that is a practical reason for adoption I assumed there must be practical financial reason behind this woman’s adoption.

        You know what they say about people who assume – they make asses out of themselves. And I’m sorry.

  5. One legal impact of adoption is that getting a passport became a huge problem for adopted people after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. I don’t know the details of this but I do know many adopted people, through my association with the American Adoption Congress, experienced this, often creating financial losses due to a long waiting period for a passport. Perhaps this has been resolved by now since I haven’t heard any recent reports. Adoptions at birth are still sealed in the majority of states and therefore inaccessible to adopted people at maturity. I am curious whether an adult adoption would be sealed but since this person would know her original parents, I guess it’s no problem.

    • I’m not sure whether an adult adoption would be sealed. It probably is sealed as that is the general practice in Washington state. However, as you say, she’s an adult and so can keep a copy of the original birth certificate and any other relevant papers.

      I’m curious about what the problem is for passports. Generally for a child’s passport you need a birth certificate and the consent of all those identified as parents on that birth certificate. This is, I think, one reason why adoptive parents need a new birth certificate–otherwise they’d be required to get consent from the no-longer-legal original parents. In my experience, for listed parents have to actually appear at the office when the application is made–you can see that this would be a problem for birth parents whose rights were termininated. Grown-ups applying for a passport don’t need parental permission but still need the certified birth certificate.

      Just as a side-note–this reliance on birth certificates to prove legal parentage is one of the reasons why new birth certificates are generally issued after an adoption. For those who don’t want new certificates to be issued–because they seem some sort of fraud–you need to tackle this reliance on the birth certificate.

  6. Statements with ” ” are from the post – below each is my comment…

    “For one thing, it would seem that at 29 you are entitled to make this decision (obviously together with the people who plan to adopt you) and thus, the role of the state as screener should be diminished.”

    Most states have a set age where the person being adopted must agree to the adoption – around age 12 or 13 seems to be the common age of consent.

    “In those instances, the original parents must either agree to their termination of their parental rights or there must be a basis for terminating them.”

    The parent child relationship has been terminated by the child reaching the age of majority which then makes the point of agreeing to relinquish their rights moot.

    “After an adoption is completed, it is common to issue a new birth certificate with the names of the adoptive parents on it.”

    Two comments – she would have her original birth certificate to file the adoption paperwork and she voluntarily made the choice, unlike infant adoptions.

    “As long as birth certificates are the required paper for these purposes, it seems only reasonable (to me) to give the adoptive parents the paper they need.”

    No, in reality they would only need a Legal Parentage Certificate which could quite easily become the norm and also work in place of custody papers in divorce.

    I do see two reasons for adult adoptions…

    To ensure any monies left to her by the estate is not contested by either natural born or step children already in the family.

    In cases where the adoptee wishes to be adopted back into his/her original family.

    • Lots to say here. It’s good to be reminded that kids over a certain age have to consent to adoption–I think I’ve forgotten to say that. But even the consent of a child who is 14, say, doesn’t excuse the need for a homestudy, I think. Because we don’t entirely trust 14 year olds to know what is best for them. We do trust adults.

      Is it really true that the parent/child relationship is terminated when the child reaches majority? I’m not sure that is so. If the adult child is single and injured or incapacitated the parents might return to the picture, no? And the adult child is probably in the chain of substitute decision makers, etc. for the parent. So there’s still legal content to the relationship, although much reduced.

      I do assume that the adoptive child had a copy of the original birth certificate and of course, she can retain a copy. No one collects the outstanding ones. If I were her I would have kept a copy, even if I wasn’t sure what I was keeping it for.

      You are right about a certificate of legal parentage–you could certainly go that route. All I mean to say is that we haven’t (as a society) chosen to do that. I don’t know of any state that issues or relies on something like that. It does seem to me that the change could be made easily from a technical/legal point of view, but I think the practicalities of the change might be immense. It means changing law and record-keeping practices in fifty states–not easy. (This is not at all about good/bad, by the way. Just about “easy.”)

      Those are two good and concrete reasons for adult adoption, quite apart from symbolic value.

      Thanks for the detailed thougths.

  7. I have a question about adoption generally Julie. As far as I understand if one parent wants to give the baby up for adoption, and the other does not, then the baby cannot be given up for adoption and then both parents remain jointly liable for supporting their child. So the one that wants to keep their baby might get physical custody and the other parent would pay support and have visitation which they might not choose to exercise.

    I am on the fence about States allowing single people to adopt available children since in theory all children are suppose to be financially supported by two parents but since state’s allow for single parent adoption why then don’t they allow for the parent who wants to keep their baby to adopt out the parental responsibilities of the parent who wanted to give their baby up for adoption? It seems if they allow for singles to adopt then they would also have to allow for one parent to opt out. I don’t think its a good idea, at least I don’t think I do, but I can see where to be consistent, adoption should have to work that way.

    • I am not totally sure I’ll get this right, but I will try to answer. Before a child can be placed for adoption existing parents must agree to termination of parental rights or have those rights terminate in a proper proceeding. If there are two parents and one agrees and the other does not, than the adoption cannot go forward.

      Further, in most places it is difficult for parent 1 to terminate parental rights in favor of parent 2. If parent 2 wants to stay a parent, parent 1 may well be stuck in the category, too. I think this varies a bit state by state and it is not always impossible for parent 1 to walk away leaving only parent 2. But it isn’t the common practice. I think that is probably reflective of a reluctance to create single parent families.

      I think that there are many places where if you want to be a single parent is it easier to adopt as a single parent than it is to start as part of a pair of parents and let the other person walk away.

  8. Julie in your comment to me you said: “Is it really true that the parent/child relationship is terminated when the child reaches majority? I’m not sure that is so. If the adult child is single and injured or incapacitated the parents might return to the picture, no? And the adult child is probably in the chain of substitute decision makers, etc. for the parent. So there’s still legal content to the relationship, although much reduced.”

    My surrender paperwork made me a ward of the court (in agency surrenders they are wards of the agency). A ward is typically a minor if my memory serves. At the age of majority wardships generally cease to exist. As to legal obligations by parents after the age of majority, I doubt that would stand up or there would be many parents paying damages for the actions of their adult children. Parents cannot commit their adult children to institutions but they can as children if you are seeing where I am going there.

    The flip side though is as the closest legal family member in cases where the adult does not have a legal spouse, the parents are the ones in case of emergency where the adult is unable to make medical decisions if there is no POA in place for medical decisions (I learned this the hard way), although they most likely could waive the right and have a GAL appointed by the court. At the same time a parent cannot stop an adult child from marrying who they choose to marry so they also can’t control who they choose for legal parents.

    Morally yes the parental obligations exist, legally no or limited to very few situtations.

  9. As an attorney in NJ who occasionally helps clients with adult adoptions, there are a myriad of reasons to do them. For example,

    1) I recently did an adult adoption where a 91 year old woman adopted her 61 year old niece. Her niece had come to live with her aunt when her mother died at age 13. Ever since then, the aunt had treated her niece as a daughter. anf the niece considered her aunt her mother.

    When we were discussing inheritance tax issues on the bequest the aunt was leaving her niece, I pointed out that if the aunt adopted the daughter and formalized the relatonship they had had for nearly 50 years, the niece would avoid a 15% inheritance tax. That seemed like a no-brainer and the court agreed.

    Subsequently, as the mother aged, it was really beneficial for her now daughter in dealing with medical personnel, etc. to be able to say that the sick woman was her mother. To say that she is my aunt who raised me would not have the same impact.

    2) I represent a woman who was named guardian of a boy to whom she was not biologically conected. The boy was the son of the woman’s former partner who had considerable problems preventing her from fulfilling her role as a parent..

    My client wanted to adopt the boy who had lived with her and her new partner and bonded with them and sees them as his parents.

    The boy was 17. I advised them to wait until the boy reached 18 so that we could do an adult adoption and not have to go through the wrenching experience of atempting to terminate the rights of the boy’s biological parents who were incapable of parenting and who had been out of his life for many years.
    I could go on amnd give other examples.

    That said, I have never heard of anyone assuming a new identity because they had an adult adoption. Certainly, it does not absolve debts or give you the right to a new social security number.

    In fact ,with the adult adoptions I have done, we have never even secured a new irth certificate as it never seemed relevant.

    • It’s always useful to have someone actually speak from real experience and expertise rather than speculating, as I tend to do. Thanks.

    • marilynn huff

      Thank you very much for taking the time to explain that. I raised the issue because it is in the article and it stuck out like a sore thumb to me, the fact that the state gave her a new birth certificate with the adoptive parents as parents and the adopted girl’s last name changed to their last name. If she’d changed her name because she got married she would not get a whole new birth certificate, it seems this might be the only legal way to get a new birth certificate for yourself with a different name on it. I have heard of people coming out of prison being adopted to get a new bc- smart actually.

    • all these adult adoptions refer to a relationship that has already begun in childhood. that’s a different ballgame.

  10. I am in a similar situation as the adults who adopted the 29-year-old. I met a young adult several years ago and since that time he’s become another son to me. He’s estranged from his biological mother and has no other real family. He’s 26 now and I have two biological children who are 15 and 11. I would love to adopt him and will as soon as he’s ready. There’s no scam, nothing odd or weird about it. Everyone deserves a loving family but not everyone is born into one. Families come together in different ways. Although my boy will always be my son, it does mean something to legalize it. It gives it a further sense of permanence, it will create an unbreakable link between my three kids and it will entitle him to part of my “estate.” Unless you are in this unique postition, you really shouldn’t judge it.

  11. And there are other reasons as well. Right now I am not his next of kin. So should something happen to him where he becomes incapacitated, I would have no say in what would happen to him. And vice verse. If something should happen to me, he and my two minor children currently have no legal connection and their father (who I am divorced from) could decide not to allow them to see one another. And then there are a host of other legal situations…

    • There are indeed many legal reasons why adoption is important. Those are beside the psychological functions it may serve. All of this, in my view, makes it a really important option to have available.

  12. When I started reading this blog, I was very anti-adoption, but am less so now. I’ve come to see that it actually protects families from loosing children (or selling them) in black or grey market trade because to have authority over a child that is not your own offspring you have to have the knowledge and written consent of the childs parent’s as well as the approval of the court. That is precisely what is so troubling about people raising other people’s offspring obtained through the kind of grey market trade in sperm and eggs – there is no proof that the people who made the children ever consented to let there child be raised by others, there is no proof that they even know the child exists.

    So in adult adoption where the parent’s no longer have any sort of authority over their child, is their consent needed? And if their consent is not needed, is there any requirement to even notify them? And if there is no need to notify them, then will his parents live out their lives believing that they are still the parents in an estranged relationship?

    Hypothetically lets say his mother and father each have property that would fall to him as their next of kin when they pass. The local department of aging and adult services determine the existence of a son through birth and school records, How would they even know the adoption had taken place if he did not change his name? If they knew would it make any difference in him being the beneficiary? Even if he did change his name and they were able to locate him, would that alone make a difference? People can change their names in court or through marriage and it would not change the fact that they are the son or daughter of their parents so they’d still get the benefit of the estate. Also if his parents were dying they’d hunt down the next of kin and it would still be him

    So I guess what I’m asking is for the adult who is adopted all they are really doing is adding another legal family right? It seems that biology and the fact that he lived life as his parents legal child kind of makes their legal parenthood iron clad. They could write him out of the will, I know that.

    If this young man was traveling alone and neither his adoptive mother or his mother knew where he was, and he was in a car accident and all they had to go on was his id, even if he changed his name they’d still track down his mom and may not even know to track down his adoptive mother. The logistics of the adult adoption done for innocent reasons still seem difficult.

    I get what it means symbolically though. My mom was orphan and got emotionally adopted by The Molinari Salami lady because they did theater together and she and I did inherit from her, only she wrote us into the will. I miss her she was like a grandma to me.

    • You’ve raised a good practical/logistical question about whether there is some way that it would be clear to all that the adoption was done. My inclination (based on limited knowledge) is to think that there is. I think the original birth certificate is routinely sealed after an adoption. Thus, I think anyone trying to get a copy of the person’s birth certificate from the state would get the new one. (I also think issuance of a new birth certificate is quite standard, but I would need to check on this.)

      If I put your question about fraud/confusion aside and think about this from a legal point of view I am more confident of the answer. Legal ties to the initial parent or parents are severed. They do not exist post-adoption. Save in the case of step-parent or second parent adoptions, adoption substitutes a new parent or parents for old one.

      There’s one exception to the rule about adoption severing ties. When it comes to enforcement of incest laws, your original family remains family. Thus, those born brother/sister remain brother/sister for the purposes of considering whether they can marry even if they are adopted out to separate families and thus are no longer legally brother and sister. (And just while I’m on the subject, generally you cannot marry your adopted brother and sister either. Interesting to think about why that is, since it is not based on genetic concerns.)

  13. My adult daughter (Sarah) has decided to become adopted by the wife (Bobbi) of her recently deceased father (Scott), because she says she no longer wants any future responsibility for me (I am a cancer survivor) and because she feels I was a bad parent. If it lets her get on with her life feeling better, even though this is hurtful, then it is what she needs to do. But I have two main issues with it. First, in Ohio, evidently, you can be adopted this way if you were a stepchild of the person as a minor. However, Scott and Bobbi were not married while Sarah was a minor. I am not even sure that Scott and Bobbi were living together when Sarah was a minor. If Bobbi dies and Sarah tries to inherit, can’t some smart lawyer hired by Bobbi’s biological children overturn the adoption? Also, on a more selfish level, as Sarah’s biological mother, I had an extremely difficult pregnancy and delivery. We both almost died. It pretty much galls me that Bobbi will be on this new birth certificate as Sarah’s birth mother, when I was the one that struggled through that pregnancy and fought to keep us both alive. It seems like revisionist history that the law can say that someone else gave birth to her. —Jan

  14. Hi Julie: late to this thread, but still hope you’ll read it and have some legal perspective in terms of a potential adult adoption scenario. I know this board shouldn’t substitute for legal advice, law vary by state, and so on.

    As William Singer and Lori R. note above, there are emotional reasons to seek adult adoption. Below is an example of that. Here’s one that should stump your legal eagles.

    “Jane”, a female in her late 30s, was abandoned by her bio-father when she was a minor, and never had a relationship with him after that. He died a few years ago. Jane and her bio-mother, Lisa, have been estranged for more than 10 years, for reasons that could be documented, if necessary. Jane wishes to terminate any legal claim that Lisa might have to her, such as making decisions for Jane should Jane become hospitalized, inheritance, being contacted as “next-of-kin” in an emergency, and so on.

    Jane has had a close platonic friendship for 18 years with “Harvey”, a divorced man in his 70s. Following the MSN article you quote, Jane and Harvey began discussing adult adoption. Since Harvey is male, he would presumably be an adoptive father. If Harvey adopts Jane, and no adoptive mother is named, would Lisa’s bio-mother still have legal rights as mother? Or could a new birth certificate be issued with Harvey as the father, and have no mother listed? Or, could Harvey adopt Jane, and then Lisa’s parental status is formally severed some other way?

    Thanks in advance for any info you might have.

      • Hi so this woman in her thirties would like a new birth certificate, like to be born again kind of get a new social security card and stuff to solidify her relationship as Harvey’s adopted daughter? I wonder if the real parents have to give their permission.

  15. PS: Before the question is asked, Jane and Harvey do not wish to attain a marriage license together, as they are platonic friends. Attaining a marriage license would not only feel emotionally contrary to the nature of their relationship, one could possibly argue that it would be taken out under fraudulent pretenses. There’s also the possibility that one or both parties will find romantic relationships with others in the future, and wish to be able to marry those persons.

    Thank you again for any insight you or your readers may have.

  16. Hi M: Jane is undecided as to whether, post-adoption, she would seek a name change, a new birth certificate and/or Social Security card. The main reasons that Jane is considering adult adoption are to formalize the relationship, and to ensure that Harvey would be empowered to make decisions should Jane become hospitalized and/or die.

    • Hi Twiso
      You said “The main reasons that Jane is considering adult adoption are to formalize the relationship, and to ensure that Harvey would be empowered to make decisions should Jane become hospitalized and/or die.”

      What she needs to do is fill out an advance healthcare directive with her medical insurance company/doctor. Also she can create a living will.

      Whew. She does not need to be adopted for any of that. She just did not know the normal avenues of achieving a few simple things like who makes decisions to pull the plug. I thought she was trying to get a new birth certificate.

      • I just want to urge a word of caution before accepting legal advice on this or any other blog. These are really serious issues and you need to consult a local lawyer. Results vary state to state and there are always pros and cons to consider.

  17. So you raise a child all their lives, and support them, and one day they decide to be adopted by a more socially advantaged family and you people see no problem with this!! WHAT if it was your child would you feel the same way?? Most likely not.

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