The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Tuesday expanded the circumstances under which someone over age 18 can be adopted while still maintaining a legal relationship with a biological parent.
The case involved an unmarried man seeking to adopt a woman. A lower court ruled against him, saying it would only approve the adoption if the woman terminated her legal relationship with her mother and the man adopted her “as a single parent who will be the only parent after adoption.”
While such a surrender of parental rights is required when a child is adopted in order to foster an “undisturbed relationship” between the child and a new parent, that’s not the case for adults, the high court said in reversing the decision.
“This is presumably because the adoptee is, after all, an adult, readily capable of managing his or her own relationships to the extent permitted by law,” Justice Gary Hicks wrote.
State law doesn’t explicitly address the situation at hand. Instead, it says a married person can adopt independent of his or her spouse if the spouse agrees or they are separated, and if the person being adopted is over age 18. The court said the absence of a spouse shouldn’t make a difference when all three adults involved agree.
Attorneys for the would-be father and the state did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday. But a man whose case led to changes in the relevant state law nearly 20 years ago said he agrees with the ruling.
John Sias, of Hollis, was 69 when he adopted 25-year-old Chris McMullen in 1999. They had met through Nashua’s Big Brother organization when McMullen was 9 and had been calling each other “Dad” and “son” for years before they sought to legalize their bond. But when they went to court, they learned New Hampshire law would not allow the adoption unless Sias’ wife also adopted McMullen, effectively eliminating his biological mother.
The pair went to the state Legislature, which changed the law. Nearly 19 years later, Sias said it was worth the effort, and that his son is doing well.
“We’re in contact all the time. He’s married and has two children,” he said. “It turned out to be just great.”
Judge Raymond Cloutier, who presided over the adoption ceremony, said at the time, “With the ever-changing fluidity of society, these laws have to be re-examined.” And in his ruling Tuesday, Hicks hinted that lawmakers might want to take another look. The court took no opinion on how the law would apply if the woman had two female parents or two male parents, “except to note that the current statutory framework appears ill-suited to deal with either situation.”