Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em. Can’t Marry Your Partner? Adopt Them Instead.

In the shadow of courts grappling with the concepts of gay civil unions and gay marriage, and rights of gay couples to adopt children, comes a different sort of case out of Maine.

A gay woman formally adopted her partner in a lesbian relationship, with the intention of securing her dependent partner’s rights to inherit from her wealthy family in the event of the wealthy partner’s death.

As a result of the couple’s eventual breakup, complex cases are now pending in two different states – cases which turn upon technicalities, policy arguments and substantive legal grounds.

Some of the Technicalities: The couple actually lived in New York, which explicitly barred adoption between sexual partners, reserving it for parent / child relationships. The adoption in question apparently took place during an extended vacation in Maine, which had no such explicit prohibition. Maine’s jurisdiction is called into question based both on failure to meet the residency requirement and affirmative fraud upon the court.

Some of the Policies: If the elected officials of a state deny inheritance rights to resident gay partners through either marriage or civil unions, should resident gay partners be allowed to circumvent their home state’s social legislative policy by exploiting the less stringent adoption laws of a different, convenient state?

Some of the Substantive Legal Grounds: The creator of the trust that is at the heart of the matter reportedly did not even know about the adoption which transformed the woman that he knew only has his daughter’s gay partner into his legal grandchild – and an heir to his trust. As a matter of estate planning law, should his alleged intentions be thwarted by undisclosed, unforeseeable legal maneuvers by his daughter and her partner?

On the practical side, if the adoption is upheld, Maine might develop a “cottage industry” of hosting gay partner-adoptions for inheritance rights on behalf of homosexuals all over the country.

Of course, none of this would be in issue if gay couples could simply automatically inherit from each other by virtue of marriage or civil union.

This unusual case may turn out to be more significant than it may appear at first blush.

Read more in this Portland Press Herald article: Unusual adoption case has high stakes.