TN 27 (02-14)

PR 01310.040 Oklahoma

A. PR 14-032 Oklahoma State Law on the Validity of Adult Adoption (NH Frankie; SSN ~) – REPLY

DATE: December 17, 2013

1. SYLLABUS

In determining whether a child is the number holder’s legally adopted child, the agency applies the adoption laws of the state where the adoption took place.  In this case, the NH adopted the claimant in Oklahoma.  In Oklahoma, the agency holds that it is bound by the state court decision if: 1) a state court of competent jurisdiction has previously determined an issue in a claim for Social Security benefits; 2) the issue was genuinely contested by parties with opposing interests; 3) the issue falls within domestic relations law; and 4) the resolution is consistent with the law of the highest court of the state.

According to the Order of Adoption granted on June 7, 2013, the NH’s adoption of the claimant is a lawful adoption and it meets all the legal requirements for a valid adult adoption under Oklahoma law. We believe that the NH validly adopted the claimant and he is the NH's legally adopted child, therefore, the claimant is eligible to receive benefits on the NH's record.

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

 This memorandum is in response to your request for an opinion regarding whether Frankie’s (NH’s) adoption of his adult, former stepson, Matthew (Matthew), is valid under Oklahoma law, and whether Matthew is entitled to benefits on the NH’s account.

ANSWER

In our opinion, the NH’s adoption of Destiny was valid because it met the Oklahoma adult adoption statute requirements. Thus, Destiny would be eligible for benefits on the NH’s account as a legally adopted child.

BACKGROUND

According to the information that you have provided, the NH was born on February. The NH married Loretta (Loretta) on March 17, 1994, and they divorced on December 5, 2002. The NH is not currently married.  The NH is a resident of Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. He began receiving Title II retirement benefits based on an August 2013 date of entitlement.

Matthew was born on January. His NUMIDENT indicates his parents were Loretta and Billy. Matthew receives Supplemental Security Income based on blindness and low vision, and is not married.  The NH and Matthew jointly filed a petition for adoption to establish a parent-child relationship between them in the District Court of Pushmataha County, State of Oklahoma (Pushmataha District Court).  On June 7, 2013, the Pushmataha District Court conducted a hearing and found that it was in the parties’ best interest to grant the petition. Thus, the Pushmataha District Court granted the NH’s adoption of Matthew.  Matthew was 35 years old at the time of the June 7, 2013, adoption.

ANALYSIS

The Social Security Act (Act) provides that a number holder’s adopted child may be eligible for benefits on the number holder’s account if the number holder legally adopted the child. 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(d), 416(e); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(1), 404.354, 404.356. In determining whether a child is the number holder’s legally adopted child, the agency applies the adoption laws of the state where the adoption took place. 20 C.F.R. § 404.356.  In this case, the NH adopted Matthew in Oklahoma; therefore, Oklahoma law is controlling.

Oklahoma recognizes the validity of an adult adoption. OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7507-1.1. Under Oklahoma law, “adult” means an individual who has attained eighteen years of age. OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7501-1.3.  In order for a petitioner to adopt an adult, the adult or her guardian must consent to the adoption in writing. OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7507-1.1 If the petitioner is married, the petitioner’s spouse must also consent to the adoption in writing. Id. Provided that the adult to be adopted is competent, the birth parent’s consent is not required. Id. (providing that OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, §§ 7503-2.1 through 7505-6.4 do not apply to a competent adult person). The petitioner must file the petition for adoption with the district court in the county where the adoptive parent reside. Id. The district court will hold a hearing, and if the district court finds that it is in all the parties’ best interest, the district court may issue an order for adoption. Id.  Once a court grants the adoption, the adopted adult is the adoptive parent’s son or daughter. OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7505-6.5(A).  Thus, if a number holder validly adopts an adult in Oklahoma, the agency considers the adopted adult to be eligible for benefits on the number holder’s account. 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”).

We first assess whether the adoption complies with Oklahoma law.  POMS GN 00306.135(1), 2001 WL 1926888. In this case, the NH lives in the City of Rattan, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma, and the NH and Matthew jointly filed a petition for adoption in the Pushmataha District Court. See OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7507-1.1 (the petitioner must file the petition for adoption with the district court in the county where the adoptive parents reside). The Order for Adoption notes that both NH and Matthew, an adult, filed petitions for adoption.  Id. (to be adopted, adult or her guardian must consent in writing). The Pushmataha District Court held a hearing on June 7, 2013, and the NH and Matthew appeared in person, both represented by counsel.  Id. (the district court will hold a hearing). The Pushmataha District Court found that “it is the best interest of said parties that said adoption be granted and the relationship of father and son be established between them.”  Id. (the district court may grant the adoption if it finds the adoption is in the best interest of all the parties). Thus, when the Pushmataha District Court entered the June 7, 2013, Order for Adoption, granting the NH’s adoption of Matthew and declaring Matthew to be the NH’s lawfully adopted son, all the legal requirements for a valid adult adoption were met under Oklahoma law.

Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-37c, 1983 WL 31272, which cites Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370 (6th Cir. 1973), holds that the agency is bound by a state court decision if:  1) a state court of competent jurisdiction has previously determined an issue in a claim for Social Security benefits; 2) the issue was genuinely contested by parties with opposing interests; 3) the issue falls within domestic relations law; and 4) the resolution is consistent with the law of the highest court of the state. In this matter, the Pushmataha District Court’s Order for Adoption meets all prongs of the G~ analysis. See SSR 83–37.

In regard to the first G~ prong, the Pushmataha District Court issued the Order for Adoption on June 7, 2013, declaring Matthew to be the NH’s lawfully adopted child. The Pushmataha District Court has proper jurisdiction over adoption cases, and the Order for Adoption resolved an issue in this case, i.e., established the parent-child relationship between NH and Matthew. See OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7502-1.2 (“proceedings for adoption shall be brought in the district court in the county where the petitioners or the child to be adopted reside, in Tulsa County or in Oklahoma County”); OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7505-6.5(A) (establishing the parent-child relationship). Therefore, the Pushmataha District Court’s Order for Adoption meets the first G~ prong.

With regard to the second G~ prong, while parties with opposing interests did not genuinely contest the issue before the Pushmataha District Court, in this case no other parties had an interest in contesting the adoption.  The NH was not married at the time of the adoption, thus, no spousal consent was required. See Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7507-1.1. Further, Matthew was a competent adult, such that his birth parents’ consent to the adoption was not required. Id. The Order for Adoption indicates that both the NH and Matthew wished to establish a father and son relationship. See OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7501-1.3 (“Contested proceeding” means any proceeding pursuant to the Oklahoma Adoption Code in which an interested party enters an appearance to contest the petition).  Because the evidence as submitted does not show that any other person had a legal right to contest the adoption, we believe that the Order for Adoption meets the second G~ prong. See POMS GN 00306.135(1), 2001 WL 1926888 (to be legal, an adoption must be valid under the law of the State where it took place).

In regard to the third G~ prong, adult-adoption issues fall within general domestic law in Oklahoma as adult adoptions are provided for under the Oklahoma Adoption Code. See OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, §§ 7507-1.1-7510-3.3.  Thus, the Pushmataha District Court’s Order for Adoption also meets the third G~ prong.

In regard to the fourth G~ prong, a court order meets the fourth prong of SSR 83-37c if it is consistent with “the law of the state as declared by the supreme court of the state, or as it would have been decided by that court had the point been considered.” See Garcia v. Sullivan, 883 F.2d 18, 20 (5th Cir. 1989). Although the Oklahoma Supreme Court has not addressed the adult adoption statute, we believe that Hurt v. Noble, 817 P.2d 744, 745 (Okla. Civ. App. 1991), provides guidance on how the Oklahoma Supreme Court would decide the legality of an adult adoption.  See OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7507-1.1 (adult adoptions). In H~, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals recognized that the Oklahoma Adoption Act included specific provisions for allowing adoption of adults. H~, P.2d at 745.  Thus, we believe that the Oklahoma Supreme Court would recognize the adoption of an adult under the Oklahoma Adoption Code. Furthermore, the Pushmataha District Court’s Order for Adoption is consistent with the laws that the Oklahoma Court of Appeals has enunciated for adult adoptions, and this case meets all the requirements for a valid adoption of an adult. Thus, the Pushmataha District Court’s Order for Adoption meets the fourth G~ prong.

CONCLUSION

In summary, we believe that the NH validly adopted Matthew as his son under Oklahoma law and that Matthew is the NH’s legally adopted child. Thus, Matthew may be eligible to receive benefits on the NH’s account as the NH’s child.

Michael McGaughran

Regional Chief Counsel

By:___________

James D. Sides

Assistant Regional Counsel

B. PR 13-098 Oklahoma (NH Jerry; SSN ~) – REPLY

DATE: July 9, 2013

1. SYLLABUS

Oklahoma recognizes the validity of an adult adoption. Under Oklahoma law, “adult” means an individual who has attained eighteen years of age.  In order for a petitioner to adopt an adult, the adult or her guardian must consent to the adoption in writing. The petitioner must file the petition for adoption with the district court in the county where the adoptive parents reside.  The district court will hold a hearing, and if the district court finds that it is in the best interest of all parties, the district court may issue a final decree of adoption. Once a court grants the adoption, the adopted adult is the adoptive parent’s son or daughter. Thus, if a number holder validly adopts an adult in Oklahoma, the agency considers the adopted adult to be eligible for benefits on the number holder’s account.

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

 This memorandum is in response to your request for an opinion regarding the type of parent-child relationship that exists between the number holder, Jerry (NH), and his adult adopted daughter, Destiny, in order to determine whether Destiny is entitled to benefits on the NH’s account.

ANSWER

In our opinion, the NH’s adoption of Destiny was valid because it met the Oklahoma adult adoption statute requirements. Thus, Destiny would be eligible for benefits on the NH’s account as a legally adopted child.

BACKGROUND

According to the information that you have provided, the NH was born on February. The agency’s records show that the NH married Nancy on July 20, 1971. The Final Decree of Adoption states that the NH married Nancy on July 20, 1970. The year discrepancy does not affect our analysis in this case.  The NH began receiving Title II retirement benefits based on a March 1996 date of entitlement. The NH lives in the City of Agra, Lincoln County, Oklahoma. 

Destiny was born on June, is presently twenty-nine years old, and has never been married. Destiny started receiving Title XVI payments in November 1988, based on disability due to intellectual, autistic, and other pervasive developmental disorders.  In May 2013, Destiny protectively filed an application for Title II disabled adult child’s benefits on the NH’s account.

The NH and Nancy jointly filed a petition to adopt Destiny in the district court of Lincoln County, Oklahoma (Lincoln District Court). The Final Decree of Adoption states that the NH and Nancy filed the petition for adoption. We do not have a copy of the petition for adoption and do not have access to records that the Lincoln District Court considered to grant the Final Decree of Adoption.  Under Oklahoma law, all records in adoption proceedings are confidential and are not open for inspection. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7505-1.1; see also Program Operations Manual System (POMS) General (GN) 00306.155 (agency policy is that we do not solicit a copy of the adoption decree, and we may use the decree to establish the date of adoption only if the parents have possession of the decree and voluntarily submit it). Prior to issuing a Final Decree of Adoption, the Lincoln District Court found that the parties had filed all required documents. See Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7505-6.2 (filings required prior to final hearing). Thus, we rely on the information in the Final Decree of Adoption to support the Lincoln District Court’s findings that the parties filed all the required documents prior to the issuance of the Final Decree of Adoption.

Nancy consented to the adoption and joined the petition for adoption. Destiny is an incapacitated adult, and Terri, Destiny’s biological mother and guardian, consented to the adoption on Destiny’s behalf. After conducting a hearing, the Lincoln District Court granted the petition for adoption and issued a Final Decree of Adoption on May 15, 2013.

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Act (Act) provides that a number holder’s adopted child may be eligible for benefits on the number holder’s account if the number holder legally adopted the child. 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(d), 416(e); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(1), 404.354, 404.356. In determining whether a child is the number holder’s legally adopted child, the agency applies the adoption laws of the state where the adoption took place. 20 C.F.R. § 404.356. In this case, the NH adopted Destiny in Oklahoma; therefore, Oklahoma law is controlling.

Oklahoma recognizes the validity of an adult adoption. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7507-1.1. Under Oklahoma law, “adult” means an individual who has attained eighteen years of age. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7501-1.3.  In order for a petitioner to adopt an adult, the adult or her guardian must consent to the adoption in writing. Id.  If the petitioner is married, the petitioner’s spouse must also consent to the adoption in writing. Id.  The petitioner must file the petition for adoption with the district court in the county where the adoptive parents reside. Id.  The district court will hold a hearing, and if the district court finds that it is in the best interest of all parties, the district court may issue a final decree of adoption. Id. Once a court grants the adoption, the adopted adult is the adoptive parent’s son or daughter. Id. at § 7505-6.5(A). Thus, if a number holder validly adopts an adult in Oklahoma, the agency considers the adopted adult to be eligible for benefits on the number holder’s account. 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”).

The Agency’s policy is that for an adoption to be legal, an adoption must be valid under the law of the State where it took place. POMS GN 00306.135(1), 2001 WL 1926888. In this case, the NH lives in the City of Agra, Lincoln County, Oklahoma, and he filed his Original Petition for Adoption and Application in the Lincoln District Court, seeking to adopt Destiny. See footnote 2. See Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7507-1.1 (the petitioner must file the petition for adoption with the district court in the county where the adoptive parents reside). The Final Decree of Adoption states that “Destiny . . . cannot consent to her own adoption as an adult individual because she is an incapacitated adult,” and Terri, Destiny’s biological mother and guardian, consented to the adoption and joined in the petition. Id. (to be adopted, adult or her guardian must consent in writing). Nancy, the NH’s wife, consented to the adoption and joined the petition. Id. (if the petitioner is married, the petitioner’s spouse must also consent in writing). The Final Decree of Adoption states that the Lincoln District Court held a hearing on May 15, 2013, and that the NH, Nancy, Terri, and Destiny personally appeared at the hearing. Id. (the district court will hold a hearing). The Lincoln District Court found that the NH and Nancy had raised Destiny “after she was made a ward of the Court more than twenty six (26) years ago,” and that “it is in the best interest of the adult child that the Court enters this Final Decree of Adoption at this time.” Id. (if the district court finds that it is in the best interest of all parties, the court may issue a final decree of adoption). The Lincoln District Court entered a Final Decree of Adoption dated May 15, 2013, granting the NH’s adoption of Destiny and declaring Destiny to be the lawfully adopted child of the NH and Nancy. Therefore, the NH and Destiny met all the legal requirements for a valid adult adoption under Oklahoma law.

Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-37c, 1983 WL 31272, which cites Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370 (6th Cir. 1973), holds that the agency is bound by a state court decision if: 1) a state court of competent jurisdiction has previously determined an issue in a claim for Social Security benefits; 2) the issue was genuinely contested by parties with opposing interests; 3) the issue falls within domestic relations law; and 4) the resolution is consistent with the law of the highest court of the state.  In this matter, the Lincoln District Court’s Final Decree of Adoption meets the first, third, and fourth G~ prong, but it does not meet the second G~ prong. See SSR 83-37.

In regard to the first G~ prong, the Lincoln District Court issued the Final Decree of Adoption on May 15, 2013, declaring Destiny to be the lawfully adopted child of the NH and Nancy.  The Lincoln District Court has proper jurisdiction over adoption cases, and the Final Decree of Adoption resolved an issue in this case, i.e., established the parent-child relationship between NH and Destiny. See Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7502-1.2 (“proceedings for adoption shall be brought in the district court in the county where the petitioners or the child to be adopted reside, in Tulsa County or in Oklahoma County”); id. § 7505-6.5(A) (establishing the parent-child relationship). Therefore, the Lincoln District Court’s Final Decree of Adoption meets the first G~ prong. 

In regard to the third G~ prong, adult-adoption issues fall within general domestic law in Oklahoma as adult adoptions are provided for under the Oklahoma Adoption Code. See Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, §§ 7507-1.1-7510-3.3. Thus, the Lincoln District Court’s Final Decree of Adoption also meets the third G~ prong.

In regard to the fourth G~ prong, a court order meets the fourth prong of SSR 83-37c if it is consistent with “the law of the state as declared by the supreme court of the state, or as it would have been decided by that court had the point been considered.” See Garcia v. Sullivan, 883 F.2d 18, 20 (5th Cir. 1989). Although the Oklahoma Supreme Court has not addressed the adult adoption statute, we believe that Hurt v. Noble, 817 P.2d 744, 745 (Okla. Civ. App. 1991), provides guidance on how the Oklahoma Supreme Court would decide the legality of an adult adoption. See Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7507-1.1 (adult adoptions). In Hurt, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals noted that the Oklahoma Adoption Act has specific provisions for dealing with the adoption of adults. H~, P.2d at 745. Thus, we believe that the Oklahoma Supreme Court would recognize the adoption of an adult under the Oklahoma Adoption Code. Furthermore, the Lincoln District Court’s Final Decree of Adoption is consistent with the laws that the Oklahoma Court of Appeals has enunciated, and as demonstrated below, this case meets all the requirements for a valid adoption of an adult. Thus, the Lincoln District Court’s Final Decree of Adoption meets the fourth G~ prong. 

The Lincoln District Court’s Final Decree of Adoption does not, however, meet the second G~ prong, which requires that parties with opposing interests genuinely contest the issue before the State court. The Final Decree of Adoption specifically states that no one appeared in opposition to the adoption. See Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 7501-1.3 (“Contested proceeding” means any proceeding pursuant to the Oklahoma Adoption Code in which an interested party enters an appearance to contest the petition). Because the evidence as submitted does not show the issue was contested, the Final Decree of Adoption does not meet the second G~ prong and is not binding on the agency.  We nonetheless believe that for the reasons discussed herein and because the adoption was valid under Oklahoma law, we are free to accept it. See POMS GN 00306.135(1), 2001 WL 1926888 (to be legal, an adoption must be valid under the law of the State where it took place). 

CONCLUSION

In summary, we believe that the NH validly adopted Destiny as his daughter under Oklahoma law and that Destiny is the NH’s legally adopted child. Thus, Destiny may be eligible to receive benefits on the NH’s account as the NH’s child.  

Michael McGaughran
Regional Chief Counsel

By:___________
Ruben Montemayor
Assistant Regional Counsel


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1501310040
PR 01310.040 - Oklahoma - 02/18/2014
Batch run: 03/06/2017
Rev:02/18/2014