No Equitable Adoption Without Evidence of Intent

Date:3/22/2002

Arthur Ford and his wife acted as foster parents for many children in San Francisco, CA. One of those children was Terrold Bean, whom the Fords took in when he was only one year old. He spent his entire childhood with the Fords and their natural daughter Mary, even after the Fords stopped accepting more foster children. Though he was judicially freed from his natural mother’s care, Terrold was never legally adopted by the Fords.

Terrold referred to the Fords as “Mom” and “Dad,” and they called him “Son” and encouraged a brother-sister relationship with Mary. They also included him in family vacations. But they never discussed legal adoption with Terrold.

Mrs. Ford died when Terrold was 18, but he continued to live with Mr. Ford and Mary until he was married. When Mary later died, Terrold took over the responsibility of caring for Mr. Ford. He supervised Mr. Ford’s stay in a nursing home and had a conservator appointed to manage his affairs. But when Mr. Ford died, he left no will, and California law dictated that his entire estate would pass to a niece and nephew whom he had not seen in 15 years and who were not even aware that he or Mary had died.

Terrold appealed the decision, claiming that under the common law doctrine of “equitable adoption,” he should be considered Mr. Ford’s son. But Terrold’s evidence—mainly the testimony of friends and neighbors—failed to meet the state’s requirements for equitable adoption. In particular, Terrold could not prove that the Fords had intended to adopt him.

Of course, the simple execution of a will would have averted this intestate tragedy.

Source:Est. Ford v. Ford, Cal.App.Dist. 2-21-02

Michigan Grandparent Visitation Statute Overturned

Date:3/8/2002

Joseph, a Michigan resident, admitted to abusing his stepdaughter, and his wife Theresa, the girl’s mother, divorced him. The couple did have a child in common, a daughter named Shaun, for whom Theresa was awarded full custody. During the divorce proceedings, the abuser’s mother, who still denied that her son did anything wrong, filed a petition for grandparent visitation with Shaun. Theresa opposed the request on the grounds that it was not in Shaun’s best interest, but the trial court granted the visitation request.

In Michigan, a state statute authorizes a judge to issue a visitation order to a grandparent whenever the judge deems it to be in the best interests of the child. The state of Washington had a similar statute that was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court because it violated parents’ fundamental rights under the federal constitution to rear their children. The main difference between the

Washington and Michigan statutes is that while the Washington statute allowed any third party to petition for visitation at any time, the Michigan statute is limited to grandparents, who may only petition for visitation when a custody matter is otherwise before the court or when one of the parents is deceased. Still, Theresa questioned the constitutionality of the Michigan statute and appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Court found that while the Michigan statute is more limited, it still allows a judge to issue a visitation order to a grandparent whenever the judge deems it to be in the best interests of the child. However, there is a legal presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children, and normally, so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children, there will be no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family and question the parent’s ability to make decisions concerning the children. Therefore, the Court ruled the Michigan statute to be unconstitutional.

Source:DeRose v. DeRose, MI App., 1-25-2002