I’ve been rather avoiding blogging about this story for well over a week now but since it just won’t go away, I’ll say something about it. There must be hundreds of versions out there on the web by now and I’m just arbitrarily picking a couple to start with. If you really want to know more, I’m sure you can poke around and find countless others.
John Goodman (not, I am quick to say, the fine actor who had a terrific role in Roseanne and The Big Lebowski) is a wealthy 48 year-old-man who stands charged with vehicular homicide in the death of Scott Patrick Wilson. Wilson’s parents are also suing Goodman for civil damages.
This John Goodman has a couple of children who are in their teens. There’s a substantial trust fund set up for the kids. The money in the trust fund isn’t available to Goodman and so it couldn’t be taken into account in the civil lawsuit nor could it be awarded in damages.
Not long ago (well after the commencement of the lawsuit against him) Goodman adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend. That makes her a beneficiary of the trust (because she’s a child of his now) and, as they’re a couple, it can effectively give him access to the money in the trust.
Now it is actually surprising to me to me that Florida law allows and adoption in this circumstance. (Actually it is possible that it does not, as Goodman conducted the adoption in a different county so the court had no information about the pending lawsuit and the like. There’s case law in Florida about when adoption is a fraud on the court and this might be such a case, as his teenaged children are now alleging.)
It’s not that I disapprove of adult adoptions generally. But it seems to me that the sine qua non of adoption is the desire for or existence of a parent/child relationship, and obviously that is not what the parties want here. Though there are feeble protestations to the contrary, it seems to me quite clear that the only purpose of this adoption is to ensure Goodman’s access to the assets in the trust. That, it seems to me, is an abuse of a very important legal device and is a terrible disservice to all of us.
You might be wondering about incest–I did. Some states would define a sexual relationship between adoptive parent and child as incest–and you can see why a state might want to do that. But Florida does not. Incest in Florida is only about blood relationships. (I do wonder, however, if Goodman and his girlfriend have to do legal research before they travel. Assuming it is valid, other states must recognize the adoption (we’ve discussed that lots of times on the blog) and so if they venture into a state with an incest prohibition that includes adoptive relatives they might be subject to that state’s law.)
As I’ve said, it does seem that the adoption could be subject to challenge. As one of the stories I linked to mentions, his teenaged children have protested. It does seem like there’s some fundamental fraud on the court. As to the teens and perhaps also as to the court with the civil case–where Goodman’s actions could have the effect of hiding his assets after the commencement of the litigation.
But mostly it makes me think that somehow Florida has ended up with adoption law that isn’t really based on the core of what adoption should be. I would have expected that any state’s adoption law was in some way tied to the desire for or existence of a parent/child relationship. Apparently not in Florida.
There’s some terrible irony here. Remember that in Florida for many years lesbian and gay people couldn’t adopt children even where there was no doubt that a functional parent-child relationship did exist? That was the legacy of Anita Bryant. (That prohibition was struck down in 2010 as the result of litigation.) It’s galling to think that at the same time it was just fine with the state if heterosexual couples adopted each other for the basest of purposes. That’s just a case of really perverse priorities. Sigh.