Adoption of an Independent Adult in Ontario
MacBeth, Re, 2013 ONSC 3252
This case concerns a rare application by a step-father to adopt his independent adult step-daughter under the Child and Family Services Act and the necessary evidence to support such an application.
Maya, the step-daughter, was 30 years old at the time of the application. The parties met in 2007 when Mr. MacBeth began a relationship with Maya's mother whom he eventually married in 2009. Despite the recentness of their acquaintance and the fact that they never lived together, there was clear evidence of a strong step-father/step-daughter relationship. Maya changed her surname to MacBeth merely three months after the wedding and stated in an affidavit that she considered Mr. MacBeth to be her true father. In contrast, Maya's relationship with her natural father was almost non-existent; they had essentially no contact by his death in 2010.
Adult Adoptions Under the CFSA
In Ontario, the CFSA is the only statute that authorizes adoptions. While the statute clearly contemplates the adoption of an adult, it does not provide the court with any guiding criteria regarding the adoption of an independent adult person.
After reviewing the few court decisions addressing this issue, Justice Henderson found that the case law established four criteria for the adoption of an independent adult person:
- The adoption would create an actual (not just legal) change in the relationship between the applicant and the proposed adoptee;
- Both parties are aware of the legal incidents of adoption, and intend those incidents to govern their new relationship;
- The application is motivated by the psychological and emotional need of the proposed adoptee for a new parent or for a parent to “fill the gap” in the parenting of the proposed adoptee; and,
- The relationship between the applicant and the proposed adoptee would be “enhanced and strengthened” by the adoption order.
Evidence Fulfilling the Criteria in MacBeth
With regards to the second criteria, there was clear evidence Mr. MacBeth and Maya were aware of the legal consequences of an adoption order. First, that it would legally sever all familial ties between Maya, her natural father and his family. Second, adoption would form a family unit composed of Maya, her mother, and Mr. MacBeth. Justice Henderson observed that the second criteria is likely satisfied in any application for the adoption of an independent adult due to the existing prima facie relationship between the applicant and proposed adoptee. It would thus be easy to establish that the parties understand and accept the legal incidents of an adoption order.
The third criteria was readily satisfied by evidence that Maya and Mr. MacBeth's de facto father/daughter relationship assisted in filling the parental gap left by the absence of a relationship between Maya and her natural father.
When considering the first and fourth criteria, Justice Henderson concluded that they raised the central issue of 'whether the proposed adoption would create an actual change in the relationship such that the relationship will be enhanced and strengthened?' Following a careful review of the evidence presented by Maya, her mother, and Mr. MacBeth, Justice Henderson found a positive answer to this issue.
Maya and Mr. MacBeth had a strong and healthy relationship. The strength of their bond was demonstrated through the contention of both parties that they each considered the other to be their true father/daughter. Their parent/child relationship filled the parenting gap in Maya's life.
Furthermore, Justice Henderson considered the fact that the birth of Maya's daughter was a catalyst for the adoption application to be a critical supporting factor. An adoption formalizing the parent/child relationship between Maya and her step-father would also make Maya's child the legal granddaughter of Mr. MacBeth. As such, the entire family unit would be strengthened and enhanced by the proposed order. The permanency of an adoption order would give the family a sense of wholeness and stability, thus serving to strengthen and enhance their bond by confirming the immutability of their family connection.
Justice Henderson found that the above evidence presented in support of the application satisfied the four criteria for the adoption of an adult independent person. The adoption order was granted.