All Adult Adoptions are Not Created Equal: Revocation Exception for Same-Sex Couples

January 20, 2017
By Gerri Sperling
Posted in Adoption

By:  Gerri Sperling, Counsel[1]

Adult adoption has existed in Pennsylvania for many years and until recently the law governing the annulment or revocation of such an adoption, i.e. that revocation/annulment is only available in the case of fraud, applied equally to all adult adoption situations regardless of the identities of the parties and of the specific reason(s) for entering into the adoption.

On December 21, 2016, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision which carved out a very narrow exception. The litigants were a same-sex couple who had been together for over 40 years. In 2012, they decided to go through the process of an adult adoption as it was, at the time, the only way for them to become a family.

When same-sex marriage became legal (first in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2014 and then as a fundamental right under the Constitution of the United States in 2015), the couple sought to annul/revoke the adoption decree in order to become a family through a more conventional means, i.e. marriage.

The lower court denied the petition for annulment/revocation asserting that it did not have the authority to annul/revoke the decree and that there were no grounds to do so. The Superior Court reversed the decision of the lower court. It held that the denial of the petition acted as a barrier to the couple’s ability to marry in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and that the Orphans’ Court, as a court sitting in equity, did, and does, have jurisdiction to annul/revoke the decree.[2]

It is important to recognize and understand that the exception created by the Court is indeed very narrow as it applies only to same-sex couples who previously obtained adult adoptions and now seek to annul or revoke the adoption decree in order to marry. Thus, the holding likely does not open the door for leniency in revocation/annulment of an adoption decree generally, as it pertains to but one specific circumstance.

Please contact me at (412) 281-5423 or gsperling@smgglaw.com  if you have any questions about the adoption process generally, be it child or adult, or about this recent decision.

[1] The author would like to recognize the significant contributions of Lydia A. Gorba, University of Pittsburgh Law School class of 2017, to this post.

[2] In re Adoption of: R.A.B., 2016 PA Super 295 (Dec. 21, 2016).