Thursday, July 24, 2008
GAY CITY NEWS
July 24, 2008
Two Men Are Birth Dads
By: ARTHUR S. LEONARD
Judge Lloyd Cutsumpas, of the Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury, ordered that two gay men from New York who contracted with a Connecticut woman to be their "gestational surrogate" are entitled to have only their names listed as parents on the final birth certificate.
In a June 13 ruling, Cutsumpas rejected the state Health Department's argument that genetic testing should be used to determine which of the men is the child's genetic father and that the other father should have to adopt the child through a second-parent adoption procedure after the birth. Instead, he ruled, an "intended parent" under a gestational agreement, including one who may not be genetically related to the child, could become a legal parent by being listed on the birth certificate.
This ruling has no direct appellate precedent in Connecticut.
Peter Griffiths and Angel Naranjo are, according to the court's opinion, "registered domestic partners in the State of New York." They wanted to have a child genetically related to both of them, so Naranjo's sister donated an egg to be fertilized by Griffiths' sperm, and Griffiths' niece donated an egg to be fertilized with Naranjo's sperm. Both embryos were implanted last November in Kenisha Taylor, a Waterbury resident, who contracted with the two men to be their surrogate. One viable fetus resulted.
As part of the agreement, Taylor promised not to engage in sexual intercourse for a specified period of time to ensure that the child would be conceived from one of the implanted embryos. She says she kept her promise, which means the fetus is not genetically related to her.
Wishing to be considered equal parents of the child in every sense, Griffiths and Naranjo refrained from any genetic testing to determine which of the embryos developed into the fetus. But, in either case, they would both have a genetic relationship to their child.
State law requires a hospital to file a birth certificate naming the woman who bore the child as the mother as soon as a child is born. However, a court can order the Health Department to issue a replacement birth certificate listing the child's legal parents, which would replace the original as the formal legal documentation of the child's birth and family status.
Anticipating their child's birth this summer, Griffiths and Naranjo filed suit in the Waterbury District of the Circuit Court to get the requisite court order for a replacement birth certificate naming them as parents. Taylor, the hospital, and the state Health Department were the nominal defendants, and unexpectedly the Health Department opposed them, arguing that because a birth certificate is required to be an "accurate" public record, "only biological or adoptive parents can have their names placed on birth certificates."
The Department stated that logically, then, genetic testing is necessary to determine whether Griffiths or Naranjo is the genetic father, and only the genetic father can be listed on the certificate by a court order. The other father would have to wait for the birth to initiate adoption proceedings. After an adoption proceeding, a third birth certificate would be issued with the names of the two men as legal parents.
Griffiths and Naranjo objected, and argued that the existing law authorizes the court to declare them the "intended parents" for purposes of the replacement birth certificate. A recently-enacted Connecticut law explicitly supports this conclusion, but does not go into effect until October. With the child due earlier, the court had to rely on earlier statutes.
"This court of equity is left to fashion a remedy for the litigants using what statutes and previously decided cases are available regarding this evolving subject matter," Cutsumpas wrote.
In light of emerging reproductive technology, the Connecticut Legislature has been tinkering with its birth certificate statutes since 2001. The first draft of the revised law made explicit references to gestational surrogacy, but those references were dropped from the final version of the statute, which resulted in ambiguities only partially addressed in subsequent amendments. It was not until the 2008 amendment due to take effect in October that an explicit reference to gestational surrogacy appears.
However, in reviewing the legislative history and the court decisions interpreting prior versions of the statute, it was clear to Cutsumpas that the Legislature intended to allow the replacement certificate to be used to establish a legal birth record for this kind of case.
However, all of the previous rulings in gestational surrogacy cases involved "intended parents" who were heterosexual couples, in which at least one and usually both were definitely the child's genetic parent. In this case, the Health Department argued, since only one of the men can qualify as the father, the men must undergo a genetic marker test, with only that one having his name on the first of the revised birth certificates.
The Department also argued that "despite Taylor's testimony that she abstained from sex during the time period surrounding the conception, there was in fact a chance that neither man was the father.
Griffiths and Naranjo responded that at least one prior unpublished Connecticut trial court decision ordered that two men be listed as parents on the replacement birth certificate with no indication that genetic testing or an adoption was required. Unpublished trial court opinions are not binding legal precedents, but Cutsumpas found the Department's arguments to be "inaccurate" in any case.
He pointed out that there were prior published Connecticut Supreme Court decisions supporting the proposition that a man need not invariably have to prove genetic parentage in order for the courts to declare him a legal parent.
"It should be further noted," he wrote, "that on almost a daily basis, in our Magistrate Court and in our Superior Court, men and women are declared to be parents of children without a genetic test... Often an acknowledgment of paternity will suffice."
He concluded that even the law in effect now could be interpreted to establish parentage "by being named as an intended parent in a gestational carrier agreement."
The judge wrote that it was "unclear" why the Department insisted on a genetic test to list Griffiths or Naranjo, but seemingly had no objection to listing Taylor on the initial birth certificate, even though she "has no genetic relationship to the child"; to do so would be to record "inaccurate information, in violation of what the department states is the public policy underlying the vital records statute."
The possibility that Taylor could be a genetic parent impregnated by another man is an issue that could be raised about all gestational surrogacy situations, Cutsumpas noted, yet the Department did not routinely call for genetic testing when the intended parents were a heterosexual couple, so it was being inconsistent here.
"It is clear that the public policy of the State of Connecticut favors the issuing of orders regarding surrogate parentage," Judge Cutsumpas concluded. "Our legislative history and case law supports this view. [This] case is not about the establishment of genetic, or biological parents, but rather the establishment of legal or intentional parents. Names on a birth certificate are not necessarily just an acknowledgment of paternity but can also establish legal responsibilities to a child. In this era of evolving reproductive technology and intent-based parenthood, our laws must acknowledge these realities and not simply cling to genetic connections as preconditions to being placed on a birth certificate."
Finding that the gestational carrier agreements was "valid, enforceable, irrevocable, and of full legal effect, Cutsumpas declared that Taylor is not the parent of the unborn child, ordered that upon the child's birth, Taylor be listed on the initial certificate, and that the Health Department then must issue a replacement certificate, "removing Taylor's name and naming Peter Griffiths and Angel Naranjo as parents."
The court's opinion was issued on June 13 but did not show up on the Westlaw electronic database until July 17. Since the embryos were implanted in November, it is likely the child will be born in August.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008
July 23, 2008
Protesters seek to change laws sealing birth papers
But opposition notes mothers' privacy rights
By Nicole Dungca
Since finding out last year that she was adopted as a baby, Judy Galliand Adams, 58, has been on a hunt for information about her birth mother. But she faces a major roadblock.
In Louisiana, as in many states, adoptees are denied easy access to their original birth certificates. Instead, they can get only amended birth certificates, which name their adopted parents as their biological parents.
Aiming to get the policy changed, Galliand Adams joined about 60 protesters Tuesday on a march from Lafayette Park to the site of the 34th Annual Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Organized by The Adoptee Rights Demonstration, protesters urged lawmakers attending the five-day conference to change laws that require the birth certificates of adopted people to be sealed.
For Galliand Adams, Louisiana's law makes the search for her biological history "incredibly frustrating."
"I have no idea who I am, and there's just a big void there," she said.
Even in states that have so-called "mutual consent registries," adoptees only can contact their birth parents if the parents agree. In these states, access to original birth certificates is often possible but usually requires hearings in civil court.
Other protesters said the laws amount to discrimination.
"This isn't about searching and reunion. This is about our rights," said Michelle Edmunds, who came from Canada to join the march.
Across the aisle, adoption advocates expressed opposition to changes that would loosen restrictive laws to grant adoptees easy access to their birth certificates. States that already have such laws include Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Alabama, Alaska and Kansas.
"We're not opposed to open adoption or open records. We're concerned about the right of privacy for the birth mother," said Rodney Huey, spokesman for the National Council for Adoption.
"A birth mother, for whatever reason, decided at one point to have her own confidential adoption, and that (confidentiality is) what she was guaranteed," he said.
. . . . . . .
Nicole Dungca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3321.
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JULY 23, 2008
Adoption records thief to get mental evaluation
Woman placed on probation pending exam results
A woman who stole hundreds of confidential adoption records from Farmington's 2nd District Court will undergo a mental health evaluation before a judge decides whether to send her to jail for up to a year.
Jill Ekstrom, 43, had pleaded no contest to five of 21 original counts of stealing public records, all class A misdemeanors. Prosecutors say Ekstrom stole the records to sell them to adopted children hoping to identify their biological parents.
Ekstrom - who called herself a "confidential intermediary" - was caught in a stin
g when a Davis County sheriff's deputy posed as an adopted child seeking a birth parent.
On Tuesday, 1st District Judge Ben Hadfield sentenced her to a year in jail, but suspended the term until the mental health evaluation is completed, Deputy Davis County Attorney Rick Westmoreland said after the hearing.
He said some statements Ekstrom made to pre-sentence investigators caused the judge concern. "He ordered the mental health evaluation to see if these things are real or imagined," Westmoreland said.
Because the theft occurred in the 2nd District Court, the case was prosecuted in Brigham City's 1st District Court. A review hearing was set for Sept. 29.
Meanwhile, the judge placed Ekstrom on probation for 18 months and fined her $540.
The judge also ordered her to pay $850 restitution to the Davis
County Sheriff's Office for the cost of the sting operation, and $30 to the 2nd District Court, to replace stolen microfilm records. - Stephen Hunt
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008
ROCHESTER NEWS AND CHRONICLE
An Emotional Call for Change
Reported by: Katrina Irwin
Adoptees from across the country rallied at the National Conference of State Legislators in New Orleans Tuesday morning while some local adoptees called for action here in New York State. They are calling on state lawmakers for help.
“Open the records,” said Emily Daszkiewicz. “Unseal these records.”
Local adoptees and birth mothers joined together in the genealogy section of the main library in Downtown Rochester this morning. It’s a place many of them have done research to find their birth parents.
The group is one of several across the state calling for what they say is a civil rights issue: Allowing adoptees to open sealed birth records.
“These people are adults,” Daszkiewicz said. “They can vote. They can drink. They can go to war for us. Who are you to say these adults can't have access to these records?”
Daszkiewicz, a birth mother, has not been successful in finding the son she gave up for adoption in 1975.
However, Katherine Tuttle, 41, found her birth mother, Claire Gmelin, in October of 2007. It took seven years worth of research. Having access to her birth records, she says, would have saved a lot of time and grief.
“I would have found her immediately,” Tuttle said. “She started looking for me in the 1970s and 80s when I was a little girl and had to give up because she was told that it was closed.”
The executive director of adoption resource network at Hillside Family of Agencies says a bill of adoptee rights is nothing new. In fact, there's been proposals for one in the state legislature since the 1980s. But ethical concerns and questions with opening up records have kept a bill from passing.
“Did we make a commitment and provide an assumption to women who were making adoption plans that their identity would be protected forever?,” said Lisa Maynard of what some people and agencies ask regarding opening records that were promised to be closed forever.
For the local adoptees and birth mothers, opening the records isn't necessarily about having a relationship with a birth parent or child.
“It's strictly to find out your heritage, any birth concerns you might have, any medical problems you feel, (or) if you want to know your ancestry,” said Jeff Hancock, 43, who found out he was adopted just 15 months ago.
“It's closure for me,” Daszkiewicz said. “It's closure I'd like to have before I'm gone.”
Assemblyman David Koon is sponsoring the Bill of Adoptee Rights in the State Legislature. He says he's been pushing it for three years, but the bill is still in codes committee in the Assembly.
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Sunday, July 20, 2008
July 20, 2008
Midwives deliver new problems in citizenship
The federal government is pressing these border residents to essentially prove their U.S. citizenship all over again if they hope to gain a passport, The Brownsville Herald reported Sunday.
Officials suspect many South Texans who were delivered by midwives are applying for passports with fraudulent birth certificates. Some of them, officials say, were actually born in Mexico.
The number of passport applications is rising in the Rio Grande Valley because of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will require a passport to travel into Mexico.
"Normally, a birth certificate is sufficient to prove citizenship," said Cy Ferenchak, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs. "But because of a history of fraudulently filed reports on the Southwest border, we don't have much faith in the (midwife-granted) document."
From 1960 to 2008, more than 75 South Texas midwives were convicted of signing birth certificates for children they did not deliver.
Mireya Salgado, who was denied a passport and is now having to provide additional proof of her U.S. citizenship because she was delivered by a midwife, said the extra scrutiny is unfair.
"After 56 years, it's like they're questioning whether my citizenship was a big mistake," said Salgado, a 10th-grade English teacher at Porter High School. "I was born here. My mother was born here. This is the only place we've known."
Many families like Salgado's couldn't afford hospital care and depended on midwives as an alternative, especially before 1984 when Medicaid began covering childbirth.
The Texas Midwifery Board reports that in 2004, 6.6 percent of babies born in Texas were delivered by midwives.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008
THE VIRGIN ISLANDS DAILY NEWS
July 15, 2008
Court blocks mother's search for son taken from her at birth
By JOSEPH TSIDULKO
Infant Sherman, as he is named in court documents, is a 38-year-old man who may have strong family ties to St. Croix.
Aside from those facts, his biological mother knows next to nothing about the son she gave up for adoption soon after he was born.
She does not know his name.
She does not know where he lives.
She does not know whether he has a family of his own.
But she wants to know. She yearns to know.
Leslie Carter-Farington has spent the last 17 years trying to trace her son, the "Infant Sherman" who was taken from her for adoption. She wants to be reunited with the only child she ever had, and she also wants to leave him a substantial inheritance.
Carter-Farington's difficult and frustrating search has led her to the Virgin Islands, where, she discovered, the baby's adoption was finalized in 1970.
Then she hit a roadblock - possibly an insurmountable one - when the V.I. Supreme Court last month affirmed a V.I. Superior Court decision rejecting her petition to unseal the adoption records that would reveal her son's identity.
Her St. Croix attorney, Curt Otto, argued that the territory's appellate court had an opportunity to be in the vanguard of a nationwide trend toward greater openness and transparency in adoptions - a trend reflecting increasingly liberal attitudes and the lifting of social stigmas.
Otto suggested that the court appoint a guardian as an intermediary between the natural mother and the adoptive parents to avoid the possibility of an unwanted encounter. He included data from studies suggesting that the great majority of reunions are positive experiences for the person who was adopted.
The Supreme Court justices, however, agreed with the lower court that Carter-Farington's reasons for wanting access to the records - to meet her biological son and to leave him her estate - were not sufficient under V.I. law to prompt them to unseal the adoption records to the biological mother or to a guardian acting on her behalf.
Despite the court's rejection of her request, Carter-Farington still believes she will find the son she gave birth to in Miami Beach on Sept. 26, 1969, when she was a 25-year-old fashion model.
"I loved my son, I wanted my son," Carter-Farington said.
But her first husband insisted he would not raise a child, she said.
Against her wishes, she says, she caved in to her domineering husband and gave up the newborn boy - a decision she has regretted ever since.
A mother's search
Now 65, Leslie Carter-Farington is a Christian counselor with a doctorate degree in theology. She long ago divorced Infant Sherman's father, and she is happily married and living in the small town of Boerne, Texas.
But the deeply religious woman, who never gave birth to another child, says a spiritual wound has existed ever since her first husband persuaded her to give up her baby.
Carter-Farington was born Alba Leslie Ramirez-Perez in Puerto Rico. She and her husband moved to St. Thomas in the late 1960s and lived here for three years.
Back then, people in the Virgin Islands knew her by the name Abbie Sherman. She worked as a model and lived what some would consider a glamorous life. But the marriage was profoundly unhappy, Carter-Farington said.
When she became pregnant in January 1969, her marital problems worsened.
"After I let him know I was pregnant, that's when hell broke loose," she said.
On the afternoon of Sept. 26, 1969, Alba Leslie Sherman - her legal name when she lived in Florida - gave birth to a healthy 6-pound boy at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
She says she had only 15 minutes with her son before the medical staff carried him off at the behest of her husband, who already had completed the necessary legal arrangements with a Florida agent to ensure that the adoption would proceed.
"I was so young and naive. I didn't know I had any rights," Carter-Farington said.
The child had blue eyes and blonde hair, Carter-Farington remembers.
She never saw him again.
"For seven years, I cried daily. It was the most difficult thing for me to do to let go of my son," she said.
"I had to cry to God and ask Him to give me comfort."
The strained marriage ended in divorce the same year Infant Sherman was born.
Alba Leslie Sherman went to visit her sister in Texas and ended up staying. She remarried in 1970.
Leslie Carter, as she became known after her marriage in Texas, founded a sporting goods store with her husband. She operated two branches until 2001, despite their divorce in 1986.
For years, she did not tell even her closest family that she had given birth to a boy in Miami so many years earlier. Keeping quiet pained her, especially when her sister had a child of her own.
In 1990, Leslie Carter married Ron Farington, her current husband.
About that time, her son should have been celebrating his 21st birthday, the age at which she believed she would be allowed access to Florida's adoption records.
"The day he was 21, I immediately sent a letter to an attorney in Florida," she said.
By that point, however, Florida's disclosure laws had changed and she was denied the information she had awaited for so long.
She hired a private investigator, but he was not successful in discovering more about the adoption or about her son's identity.
After retiring from the sporting goods business, Carter-Farington obtained her doctorate degree in 2004.
In desperation, she wrote a letter to the White House, and another to the president's brother, Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida.
The long shot proved fruitful.
In November 2004, the Florida Department of Children and Families replied to Carter-Farington at the behest of the state's governor.
"I got everything, I got all the documentations. They found out where he was adopted."
But Florida could not provide any information about her son because the adoption did not take place there. Instead, Carter-Farington learned, it was finalized June 4, 1970, in Municipal Court in Christiansted, St. Croix.
Carter-Farington hired Otto, who found records kept by the Superior Court's Family Division. A notation in a book of old case numbers read: "Adoption of Infant Sherman."
In considering the case, the territory's courts verified that they do possess Infant Sherman's adoption records.
When she gave her son up for adoption, Carter-Farington signed consent documents forfeiting all rights to the child.
Virgin Islands law stipulates adoption records can be unsealed only at the request of the person who was adopted, once he or she becomes an adult, or by someone who demonstrates "good cause" - a term simply meaning the existence of an adequate legal reason for the court to take action.
Infant Sherman has not sought out his birth mother.
In February 2007, Superior Court Judge Patricia Steele denied Carter-Farington's request for the adoption records, finding that the law was clear in establishing her reasons did not amount to "good cause."
The next month, Steele denied a request to reconsider her decision.
Otto appealed to the V.I. Supreme Court, arguing Steele's interpretation of the adoption statute took into account only hypothetical interests of the parties involved in the case when determining whether "good cause" existed for disclosure.
The real interests of the parties could be known only if contact is made with Infant Sherman and his adoptive parents, he argued.
Because the specific factors that constitute "good cause" were not defined by the V.I. Legislature when it enacted the territory's adoption laws almost 50 years ago, Otto said that the case was one of first impression and that the court had a chance to essentially create new law, in accord with accepted social norms, that would set precedent for future cases.
The attorney offered a method to determine the interests of the adoptee without exposing him to a potential negative situation that the law was designed to shield him from.
That method was to appoint a guardian to access the records and contact Infant Sherman's family.
The adoptive parents, who know their son is not their biological child, then could decide whether to tell him about her desire to meet him.
They also could let him know he stands to inherit a large amount of money.
That approach would mitigate any ill feelings that might result from a meeting not desired by Infant Sherman, who may not even know he was adopted. Information obtained by the guardian would help the court determine "good cause" on a case-by-case basis, according to Otto.
The court's clarification of the law would be made in light of the territory's tolerance and "relaxed attitude toward out-of-wedlock childbearing," Otto wrote.
But the three Supreme Court justices all agreed that Steele correctly interpreted the law and that there was no reason to reverse her decision.
In her published opinion, Justice Maria Cabret wrote that the V.I. Legislature would have enacted a provision allowing for the appointment of a guardian if they intended for that process to be available to biological parents seeking their children.
Instead, Cabret wrote, the law makes clear that "good cause" must first be demonstrated before anyone can have access to records, not the other way around.
Cabret did not take into consideration Otto's references to literature regarding changing societal attitudes and psychological studies because the arguments they supported were not made to the trial court and therefore could be raised on appeal.
But she wrote that implementing a system for accommodating people in Carter-Farington's position was the province of the Legislature, not the territory's courts.
In a consenting opinion, Justice Ive Swan wrote that the biological mother's "generosity towards her son is praiseworthy and commendable."
But identifying someone for inheritance is clearly not a case for which the law allows unsealing adoption records. Nothing in the law mentions an adoptee's right to inherit from his natural parent, according to Swan.
The adoption laws represent "an unequivocal attempt to terminate the relationship between natural parents and adoptee," Swan wrote.
The laws make clear Carter-Farington's stated reasons for wanting to find her son are not substantial enough for the court to circumvent the measures taken to sever the mother-child relationship, he said.
Having reached that conclusion, Swan wrote there was no need for the court to further interpret the law to create a framework under which "good cause" could be established in such cases.
Shifting mores, happy reunions
Otto said he believes the Supreme Court's decision amounts to a missed opportunity. The territory could have been at the forefront of a national trend toward liberalizing adoption laws, something that will inevitably happen across the country in the coming years, he said.
"The reason for secrecy laws has evaporated," Otto said.
The court "had a real opportunity to take a giant step forward on behalf of all parents in the United States. The adoption laws are awaiting a progressive court," he said.
In the early 1900s, adoption records generally were open and accessible, according to Otto.
"The veil of secrecy that descended on the adoption process was created because of societal stigma and prejudices," Otto wrote in his appeal.
Those prejudices reflected society's view toward out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Back then, "adoption was viewed as somehow shameful, something to be hidden," Otto wrote.
The secrecy laws became stricter after World War II as the number of illegitimate births increased in this country. They were meant to protect children from the pejorative label of "bastard" and shield mothers from the scorn of society.
Since the 1960s, however, the pendulum of public opinion has been swinging in the other direction.
"In the law, there is a slow trend toward openness," Otto wrote. "Secrecy, however, remains the law in most jurisdictions."
To support his arguments, Otto included an affidavit from a psychologist who has studied the relationships that form between adults and the biological parents who gave them away.
In the affidavit supporting Carter-Farington's appeal, Wayne Etheridge wrote that studies overwhelmingly suggest most reunions are happy. A 1989 study concluded that 95 percent of adults who had been adopted wanted to be found by their birth parents.
According to Etheridge, 90 percent of the people interviewed for another study claimed their reunion with their biological parent proved to be a positive experience.
Psychological literature "found that the searching process to encounter birth parents helped fill a void that seems to arise from the adoption process itself," Otto wrote in his appeal.
Longing for reunion
Leslie Carter-Farington is convinced that a reunion with her son will be a day of profound joy and love.
She still believes she will meet him - someday.
When she does, she is certain she will love him, even though she knows nothing about his life.
"We are certain in our hearts that my son is a good man," she says.
Carter-Farington is a woman of faith, and her faith convinces her that "love conquers all things," she says.
Her husband has told her he will love her son as if he was his own, just as she loves her husband's two daughters.
"I have a desire, when we meet, it will be like we have never been apart. My desire is to be part of his life and him be part of our life and family," Carter-Farington says.
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Monday, July 7, 2008
July 7, 2008
Heir's adoption of lesbian lover annulled in Maine
By JERRY HARKAVY
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — An adult adoption involving lesbian partners and a claim to a share of a family fortune built on IBM has been annulled, bouncing the case to Maine's highest court.
At issue is whether it was legal for a judge to allow Olive Watson to adopt Patricia Spado in 1991 in Knox County, where the longtime partners spent several weeks each summer on an island in Penobscot Bay.
Watson was a daughter of Thomas Watson Jr., who took International Business Machines Corp. from punch cards into electronic computing.
The relationship between Spado and Watson ended a year after the adoption was approved, and in 2005 — after Thomas Watson and his wife had both died — the adoption was challenged in court by other heirs to the Watson fortune.
After Thomas Watson and his wife died, their grandchildren became eligible for cash payouts and Spado claimed the adoption made her a beneficiary.
The probate judge who granted the adoption granted the heirs' petition and annulled it on a residency issue on April 24, but her sealed ruling didn't come to light until an appeal brief was filed with the state supreme court, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In Maine, adoption records are confidential, even though the women were in their 40s when the adoption took place.
Spado and Olive Watson had lived together for 14 years before their breakup, spending only five nights apart. Under their separation agreement, Watson paid her ex-partner about $500,000 in exchange for relinquishing her claim to certain real estate.
The settlement, however, was apparently not intended to terminate Spado's rights to inheritance as a granddaughter. Her court filings contain a letter signed by Watson after the breakup in which she says: "I shall at no time initiate any action to revoke or annul my adoption of you."
Gay rights activists say the case shows the lengths to which same-sex couples would go to ensure a partner's financial security in the days before they were allowed to form civil unions or to marry.
Olive Watson and Spado had been living in New York at the time of the adoption, but that state barred the adoption of a homosexual partner.
Maine law required that the adoptee had to "live" in the state and the adopting parent had to "reside" there, but the state's adoption law does not specifically define either term. During their 14 years together, Spado and Watson spent several weeks each summer at Watson's home at her family's compound on North Haven, known as Oak Hill.
In their legal appeal brief, Spado's lawyers argue against annulling an adoption that had been allowed to stand for so long on the basis of undefined domicile requirements.
"Most disturbing, this challenge can come not just in a direct appeal, but at any time, even decades later, in a collateral attack long after final judgment and longstanding reliance on the adoption," the brief stated.
Even though the heirs reached their goal of annulling the adoption, they also are appealing in a bid to broaden the foundation of their case. Their attorney, Stephen Hanscom, plans to argue that the adoption should also have been annulled on other grounds: that it was obtained by two partners seeking to manufacture inheritance rights and that they did not intend to establish a normal parent-child relationship.
Hanscom plans to file his legal brief at the end of the month.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is likely to hear arguments on the appeals this fall.
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