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Adoption: Not
just for children anymore

Adoption: Not
just for children anymore

Linc Morris admits it took him a while to get used to the idea of being adopted, which probably explains why he was 42 years old by the time it happened. Morris' mother and father divorced when he was young, and he grew up with both parents and their new spouses, spending the bulk of his formative years with his mother and stepfather.

He and his stepfather talked about adoption on and off for years, but "never pulled the trigger," he said. It was his biological father's death three years ago that led Morris to the realization that he finally was ready. The adoption was finalized in 2005.

"It made me evaluate a lot of things that were happening in my life, things that had happened in my life," Morris said. "It occurred to me that this was the right thing to do."

Morris' story might not be the adoption scenario most people imagine, but it isn't unique. Adoption lawyers say adults adopt other adults more often than one might think.

The issue of adult adoptions recently has gotten some national attention. In Maine, the family of an IBM founder is fighting to keep his lesbian daughter's former partner, whom she had adopted, from collecting millions in inheritance. And in the paternity fight for the late Anna Nicole Smith's daughter, one claimant, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, was adopted as an adult, according to various news reports.

There also have been cases of men attempting to adopt their mistresses, a practice state courts have frowned upon as an attempt to weaken spouses' inheritance rights, said adoption expert Joan Heifetz Hollinger, of the University of California-Berkeley's law school.

Von Anhalt, who claimed he had a decade-long affair with Smith, has said Smith wanted him to adopt her so that she could be a princess. But he said his wife, 90-year-old actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, wouldn't sign the necessary paperwork. Von Anhalt, 59, acquired his title when he was adopted, according to stories in the British press.

But most adult adoption scenarios are far more mundane, attorneys say, typically undertaken by two non-biologically related people looking to formalize an existing parent-child relationship.

"It's not unusual," said Glenna Weith, Morris' mother and a Champaign, Ill.-based adoption attorney. "Very often it has been a stepparent situation like with my son."

As in her family's case, stepparents might be forced to wait until a stepchild is older than 18 to adopt because the noncustodial biological parent doesn't approve.

Government and private adoption agencies typically track only adopted children or teens in the foster care system, so there are no statistics on how many adult adoptions take place in the U.S. each year. But all states allow for some form of adult adoption, according to The Encyclopedia of Adoption.

Many states require only the consent of both adults and a judge's approval, but some are more restrictive.

In Illinois, for example, the adult wanting to be adopted must have lived with their adopter for at least two consecutive years, Weith said. In other states, including Alabama, the adopted adult must be permanently disabled or incapacitated in some way.

No state allows adult adoption by a U.S. citizen trying to bring a non-citizen into the country, said Marilu Cabrera, spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Chicago.

But there are cases in which adult adoption is appropriate and helpful, experts said.

For foster children older than 18, adoption offers hope of finding a permanent family, and the practice of adopting older orphans is becoming more common, said Adam Pertman, executive director of the New York-based Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute.

"Why do 18- or 21-year-olds not need families?" he said. "Where is their support system? ... Where do they go for Christmas?"

Adopted children who find their birth parents later in life also might choose to be adopted as adults as a way to legalize the biological connection.

Some gay couples have used adoption to secure legal protections that were nonexistent before the emergence of domestic partnership benefits. But the legal waters for such adoptions are a bit murky.

Olive Watson, the daughter of IBM founder Thomas Watson, adopted her former partner, Patricia Spado, 16 years ago in Maine. Spado now is trying to get a share of a trust set up for the family's heirs.

Members of the Watson family are trying have the adoption annulled, which will entail proving fraud or deception. Briefs in the case indicate the judge who approved the adoption didn't know the women had a sexual relationship.

In some states, incest rules would apply to such an adoption, and other states have blocked gay couples from entering what laws have termed "quasi-marriages."

"We do discourage people from performing adoptions," said Camilla Taylor, staff attorney with Lambda Legal, a national gay rights advocacy organization.

Adoption statutes are meant to help people create parent-child relationships, and because that's not what gay couples are doing, their adoptions are subject to legal challenge, she said. (Karen Hawkins, AP)

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