Whether M~ (Claimant) is entitled to child’s insurance benefits on the earnings record
of her stepfather, J~ (NH), who adopted Claimant in Arizona when she was an adult.
Yes, Claimant is entitled to child’s insurance benefits on NH’s earnings record because
NH’s adoption of Claimant was valid under Arizona law. Additionally, although Claimant
was over 18 years old when she applied for child’s insurance benefits, she was unmarried,
had a disability that began before age 22 and, as NH’s legally adopted child, was
deemed dependent on NH at the time of application.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE
Claimant was born on November XX, 1972. According to information provided by the T~,
Arizona Field Office (FO XXX908), she receives Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB)
and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on her own earnings record, with an established
disability onset date of May 1, 1991. Her mother, A~, acts as Claimant’s representative
Claimant’s birth certificate identifies her parents as A~ and G~. A~ reported that
she married NH on January XX, 1990. She stated they divorced in approximately June
of 2006 but remarried on November XX, 2009. She further stated that she and NH did
not live separately after their 2006 divorce and instead continued to live together
with Claimant as a single family unit through their 2009 remarriage.
On June XX, 2005, when Claimant was 32 years old, an Arizona State court issued an
Order of Adoption establishing a parent-child relationship between Claimant and NH.
On March XX, 2017, NH filed for retirement insurance benefits (RIB). The agency granted
NH’s RIB application with an entitlement month of March of 2017. On April XX, 2017,
Claimant filed an application for child’s insurance benefits on NH’s earnings record.
If granted, the T~, Arizona Field Office indicated Claimant’s month of entitlement
would be March 2017.
Under the Social Security Act (Act), an applicant may be eligible for child’s insurance
benefits on the earnings record of an insured individual if the applicant is the insured
individual’s “child,” as defined in section 216(e) of the Act. Social Security Act
§ 202(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350. Section 216(e)(1) of the Act defines “child” as
“the child or legally adopted child of an individual.” Section 216(e)(1) of the Act;
see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.356 (“You may be eligible for benefits as the insured’s child if
you were legally adopted by the insured”). For purposes of adopted children, the agency
applies the adoption laws of the State where the adoption took place. 20 C.F.R. §
404.356; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00306.135.
In addition to applying for benefits, the applicant must establish that she is: (1)
the insured individual’s child; (2) unmarried; (3) under the age of 18 or, if older
than age 18, have a disability that began prior to age 22 or qualify as a full-time
student; and (4) dependent on the insured individual at the time the application is
filed. See Social Security Act § 202(d)(1)(C)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350; POMS GN 00306.001.A. A legally adopted child is considered dependent on the insured individual if adopted
prior to the insured individual’s entitlement to old age or disability benefits. 20
C.F.R. § 404.362(a); POMS GN 00306.136. The applicant is entitled to child’s insurance
benefits in the first month she meets the foregoing criteria. See Social Security Act § 202(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.352(a).
Under Arizona law, an adult may adopt another adult who is either 18 to 21 years old
and consents to the adoption or is the adopting adult’s stepchild, niece, nephew,
cousin, or grandchild. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-8101(A). Where consent is required, such
consent must be in writing. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-8101(A). An Arizona State court
in the county in which either the adopting adult or the adoptee reside must approve
an agreement of adoption between the parties by issuing a judicial decree of adoption.
Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-8101(A).
The agreement of adoption between the proposed adopting parent and adoptee must be
in writing and executed by the proposed adopting parent. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-8101(B).
The agreement of adoption must state that the parties agree to assume toward each
other the legal relation of parent and child, with all attendant rights, duties, and
responsibilities. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-8101(B). If the proposed adoptive parent and/or
adoptee are legally married at the time of adoption, their spouses must consent to
the adoption if capable of giving such consent. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-8101(C). Arizona
law does not require that the proposed adoptee’s natural parent(s) consent to the
adult adoption. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-8101(C).
The proposed adoptive parent must file a petition for adoption in an Arizona State
court in the county where the proposed adoptive parent or adoptee reside. Ariz. Rev.
Stat. § 14-8101(D). The petition must state: (1) the length and nature of the parties’
relationship; (2) the degree of kinship, if any; (3) the reason for the adoption,
together with a statement as to why the adoption is in the best interests of the parties
and the public; (4) the names and addresses of any living parents or adult children
of the proposed adoptee; and (5) whether the proposed adoptive parent and/or his or
her spouse has previously adopted other adult persons and, if so, the name of such
person(s) and the date and place of the adoption. Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 14-8101(F)(1)–(5).
If the court determines the adoption is in the best interests of the parties and the
public, the court will approve the agreement of adoption and make a decree of adoption
declaring that the adoptee is the adoptive parent’s child. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-8101(D).
On April XX18, 2005, NH filed a Petition for Adult Adoption (petition) in the Arizona
Superior Court, P~ima County. The court granted the petition in an Order of Adoption
dated June XX15, 2005 (order). In its order, the court confirmed that all Arizona-state law requirements had been
met and found that: NH was a resident of P~ima county at the time he filed the petition;
According to the order, Claimant was a “special needs adult” who had been in her mother’s
custody since approximately August XX25, 1990; Claimant consented to and expressly
desired the adoption; NH was aware of his responsibilities and obligations to Claimant;
NH and his spouse had not previously adopted an adult; and the adoption was in the
best interests of the parties and the public. Accordingly, the court ordered, adjudged,
and decreed the existence of a parent-child relationship between NH and Claimant.
Based on the foregoing, NH’s adult adoption of Claimant appears to meet the criteria
of Arizona Revised Statute, section 14-8101, subsections (B) through (F). Furthermore, the adoption met the requirements of subsection (A) because, although
Claimant was older than 22 years of age at the time of the adoption, NH was marred
to Claimant’s natural mother and thus, he was adopting her as a stepparent.
Neither the 2006 divorce between NH and A~ nor their subsequent remarriage on November
XX, 2009 affected NH and Claimant’s parent-child relationship or Claimant’s eligibility
for child’s insurance benefits on NH’s earnings record. Under Arizona law, on entry
of the decree of adoption, the parent-child relationship and all legal rights, privileges,
and other legal consequences of a natural parent-child relationship exist thereafter
as though the child were born to the adoptive parent in lawful wedlock. Ariz. Rev.
Stat. § 8-117(A). Because NH and Claimant had already established a legal parent-child
relationship in June of 2005, NH and A~’s June 2006 divorce did not impact NH and
Claimant’s parent-child relationship.
Having established that she is NH’s child under the Act, Claimant must meet the other
criteria for child’s insurance benefits. First, because NH legally adopted her, she
qualifies as NH’s child under the Act. See Social Security Act § 216(e)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.356. Second, Claimant was unmarried
when she filed her application for child’s benefits on NH’s earnings record. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(4). Third, although Claimant was over age 18 when she filed
her application, her age does not render her ineligible because the agency previously
determined that she had a disability that began before age 22 when it granted her
DIB and SSI benefits with an onset date of March XX, 1991. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5). Fourth, as NH’s legally adopted child, Claimant is deemed
dependent on NH, because the adoption took place in 2005, prior to NH becoming entitled
for RIB in 2017. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a) (“If you were legally adopted by the insured before he or
she became entitled to old-age or disability benefits, you are considered dependent
upon him or her.”); POMS GN 00306.136.
Claimant is entitled to child’s insurance benefits on NH’s record. Her adult adoption
was valid under Arizona law, she was unmarried, had a disability arising before age
22, and is dependent on NH because NH adopted her prior to his RIB entitlement date.