Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Case Law Development: Death of Biological Parent Severs Step-parent/Step-child Relationship for Purposes of Adoption Statute

After her father died and shortly after she turned 18 years old, Daughter consented to her adoption by Stepmother.  Daughter's biological mother objected.  The probate court granted the adoption and the Alabama Court of Appeals reversed.  Alabama adoption statutes authorize adult adoption of persons related by blood or affinity.  The court noted that Daughter's affinity relationship with her father's wife was extinguished upon the death of the her father.  Thus, the court held that "Daughter, at the time of the purported adoption, was not a "stepchild by marriage" of the stepmother" under Alabama statutes.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Murdock noted that the biological parent's constitutional rights were implicated by allowing an adoption in this instance based solely on the consent of the Daughter.  "The fundamental nature of the parent-child relationship and the importance of the family in our society, however, belie the notion that a child, merely by turning 19 years of age, can, without the consent of his or her parent, unilaterally sever the parent-child relationship." 

Justice Bryan's concurring opinion provided some additional guidance for Stepmother and Daughter: "...most assuredly no court order or the lack of a formalized judgment of adoption can deter the nonlegal relationship of love and affection between the daughter and the stepmother. Moreover, the daughter and the stepmother may accomplish many of the results they may be attempting to achieve through adoption by other legal avenues, such as utilizing wills, living wills, powers of attorney, trust agreements, and various other legal mechanisms."

Hays v. Hays, 2006 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 352 (June 23, 2006) bgf

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