« Law - More on "What to make of those astronomical Supreme Court signing bonuses?" | Main | Ind. Courts - Reports on bills of interest to the Judiciary discussed last week [Updated] »

Monday, March 19, 2007

Law - Adult adoption put to test in case where IBM founder's granddaughter adopted her lesbian companion, then couple split

"Partner Adopted by an Heiress Stakes Her Claim" is the headline to this story today on the front page of the NY Times. Some quotes:

[D]escendants of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of I.B.M., [own] more than 300 acres worth nearly $20 million on the northern tip of this sea-splashed idyll 90 miles northeast of Portland. * * *

Recently, though, the Watson name has surfaced in a different context, a most unusual lawsuit. It concerns Olive F. Watson, 59, granddaughter of the I.B.M. founder and daughter of Thomas J. Watson Jr., the company’s longtime chief executive; and Patricia Ann Spado, 59, her former lesbian partner of 14 years.

In 1991, Ms. Watson, then 43, adopted Ms. Spado, then 44, under a Maine law that allows one adult to adopt another. The reason, Ms. Spado has contended in court documents, was to allow Ms. Spado to qualify as an heir to Ms. Watson’s estate.

But less than a year after the adoption, Ms. Watson and Ms. Spado broke up. Then in 2004, Ms. Watson’s mother died, leaving multimillion-dollar trusts established by her husband to be divided among their 18 grandchildren.

Re-enter Ms. Spado with a claim: Because she was adopted by Olive F. Watson, she said, she is technically Thomas J. Watson Jr.’s 19th grandchild and is therefore eligible for a share of the trusts.

The story continues with descriptions of the legal efforts on both sides, and then broadens into a look at the use of adult adoption nationally:
Many states allow adult adoption, but the laws were primarily intended for situations like a stepparent adopting a stepchild later in life, said D. Marianne Blair, an adoption expert at the University of Tulsa College of Law.

However, some same-sex couples began using the adoption process to establish financial security or inheritance for their partners, said Arthur S. Leonard, a professor at New York Law School.

“Before we had domestic partnership ordinances, before same-sex marriage or civil unions, back then there wasn’t much you could do,” Professor Leonard said.

Then as now, the adoption laws varied by state, and it is not known how many of these arrangements have been made.

In New York, some people sought adoption as a way to inherit a rent-controlled apartment from a same-sex partner, Professor Leonard said, but a 1984 court ruling said that same-sex couples could not use adoption to create legal family ties.

A state court in Delaware later allowed same-sex partner adoptions there, Professor Leonard said.

An AP story by Karen Hawkins dated March 12th and headlined "Adult adoption isn't just about flashy court cases," reports:
[T]he issue has gotten national attention of late, thanks to the ongoing paternity battle over the late Anna Nicole Smith's daughter and a multimillion-dollar dispute involving a former lesbian couple working its way through courts in Maine.

One of the men who claims to be the father of Smith's infant daughter, the 59-year-old husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, is a prince who purportedly gained his title not by blood but by being adopted - as an adult - by a German princess.

And in Maine, the family of an IBM founder is fighting to keep his lesbian daughter's former partner, whom she'd adopted, from collecting millions in inheritance.

But most adult adoption scenarios are far more mundane, legal experts say, typically undertaken by two non-biologically related people looking to formalize an existing parent-child relationship * * *

Stepparents might be forced to wait until a stepchild is older than 18 to adopt because the noncustodial biological parent doesn't approve.

What is the law in Indiana? IC 31-19-2, re filing the petition for adoption, provides at section 1 that "An individual who is at least eighteen (18) years of age may be adopted by a resident of Indiana," but "If the court in which a petition for adoption is filed under this section considers it necessary, the court may order: (1) the type of investigation that is conducted in an adoption of a child who is less than eighteen (18) years of age; or (2) any other inquiry that the court considers advisable; before granting the petition for adoption."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 19, 2007 08:27 AM
Posted to General Law Related