Q: I heard something recently about an old man who wanted to adopt his girlfriend. Is that legal?
A: Adoption terminates the status of parent and child with a former parent and replaces it with a new, legal relationship. An adopted child is treated as if the child had been born to the adoptive parents, bringing with it all rights and obligations of that relationship under Florida law. The prior parent and child relationship is terminated for all purposes.
Step parent adoptions are given special treatment by Florida statutes. In step parent adoptions, the birth grandparents may retain some rights of visitation and, a step parent adopted child does not necessarily lose all rights to inherit from his or her birth parents as would other adoptive children.
Although some states prohibit adult adoptions, Florida is not among them. Adult adoptions are primarily intended to allow a step parent to adopt a step child even though the child is an adult. Adult adoptions have also been used by same sex partners, who could not marry but want to create inheritance rights for their partner. A girlfriend adoption is rare, but could happen under the statute. An interesting recent case involving girlfriend adoption was Goodman v. Goodman, decided on March 27, 2013.
John Goodman is a 49 year old multi-millionaire who wanted to adopt his 43 year old girlfriend. He filed a petition, which the trial court granted. The result was that the girlfriend became one of Goodman’s children. That meant she would share as a child with Goodman’s minor children from a previous marriage as beneficiaries of a $300 million trust fund previously established for the benefit of Goodman’s children. After the period to appeal expired, Goodman told his ex-wife about the adoption.
Goodman argued that Florida statutes did not require notice to his ex-wife or other children. He argued there was no specific statutory mandate to give them notice and further, that their consent was not required. The court disagreed noting that Section 63.182 of Florida Statutes provides that in addition to specific persons expressly entitled to notice in an adoption, a person is entitled to notice if the adoption will have a direct financial and immediate impact so that the person will gain or lose by the adoption.
The appellate court ruled that Goodman’s other children would be directly, immediately and financially impacted and were therefore entitled to notice. Rather than ordering a new trial, the court threw out the adoption judgment as a violation of the due process guarantee of notice and an opportunity to be heard. The court explained that Goodman’s deliberate failure to provide notice was a fraud on the court and the judgment was set aside based on fraud in the proceedings.
The answer to your questions is yes, it is legal to adopt a girlfriend in Florida. But, as with many “legal” matters, the devil is in the details.
William G. Morris is an attorney whose practice covers a broad range of subjects, including civil litigation, real estate, business and corporate law, estate planning and probate, domestic relations and contracts. He writes this column periodically with respect to legal matters that frequently affect non-lawyers. The information contained in this column is not intended as legal advice and, of necessity, is generalized. For questions about specific circumstances, the reader should consult a qualified attorney.