This is in response to your request for an opinion as to the validity of the NH’s
adoption of disabled adult N~ under Pennsylvania law, and whether a parent-child relationship
Based on our review of the facts of this case and our research of the relevant statutes,
regulations, and case law, it appears that N~’s adoption is valid under Pennsylvania
law, and that it resulted in a parent-child relationship between the NH and N~ for
purposes of N~’s entitlement to child’s benefits on the NH’s account.
In the alternative, it also appears that N~ qualifies for a parent-child relationship
with the NH due to their stepparent-stepchild relationship.
N~ is a disabled, thirty-year old adult. She was born on September **, 1984 in Lehigh
County, Pennsylvania to P~ and N1~. Her natural mother, P~, initially applied for
Supplemental Security Insurance Benefits (“SSI”) on N~’s behalf in November 1984. That
application was approved. N~’s benefits terminated for non-medical reasons in April
2002, but P~ reapplied for N~’s SSI benefits in October 2002. Upon reapplication,
N~ was medically approved for benefits with an onset date of September **, 2002, based
on the conditions of mental retardation and late effects of cerebrovascular disease. N~
has been receiving SSI benefits continuously since that time, with P~ as her representative
P~ and N~’s natural father, N1~, divorced in 1998 in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
On June **, 2005, N1~ filed an application for DIB. In his application, N1~ indicated
that he married P~ in 1980, but that they divorced in 1998 in Pennsylvania. N1~ did
not list N~ as his disabled adult child. N1~ passed away on January **, 2009.
In March 2009, P~ filed an application for surviving disabled adult child benefits’
on behalf of N~. The field office also obtained an application for DIB based on N~’s
own earnings record in May 2009. The field office approved both applications for surviving
disabled child’s benefits and DIB under the rules of collateral estoppel.
The NH, D~, married P~ on July **, 2009, when N~ was twenty-four years old. The NH
filed an application for DIB on October **, 2009, where he listed N~ as his child. This
application was made after his marriage to P~, but before his adoption of N~. His
DIB application was approved on February **, 2010, and the allowance was processed
on April ** 2010. The field office did not secure a disabled adult stepchild application
at this time because N~ did not meet the durational requirement for a stepchild.
On July **, 2012, when N~ was twenty-seven years old, the Orphans’ Court Division
of the Court of Common Pleas in the County of Northampton granted the adoption of
N~ by the NH and her natural mother, P~, who joined in the petition.
On February **, 2013, N~’s natural mother, P~, filed an application on behalf of N~
for disabled adult child’s benefits on the NH’s record. The current request for a
legal opinion arises out of N~’s February 2013 application for disabled adult child’s
benefits on the NH’s account. The issues are whether N~’s adult adoption is valid
under Pennsylvania Law, and whether a parent-child relationship exists.
Disabled adult child’s benefits may be granted based on the earnings record of an
insured who is entitled to disability insurance benefits if the applicant:
(1) is the insured’s natural child, legally adopted child, stepchild, grandchild,
stepchild, or equally adopted child;
(2) is dependent on the insured as defined in the regulations;
(3) has applied for benefits;
(4) is unmarried;
(5) is eighteen years old or older; and
(6) has a disability that began before reaching age twenty-two.
42 U.S.C. § 402(d) (2013); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a) (2014); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.355 to
359. This memorandum will address each of the requirements in turn.
N~ is Both the Legally Adopted Child and the Stepchild of NH.
Under the Act and the implementing regulations, a “child” includes a legally adopted
child or a stepchild. 42 U.S.C. § 416(e) (2004); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.356, 404.357.
N~ is the Legally Adopted Child of the NH.
The first consideration is whether N~ qualifies as the NH’s legally adopted child. To
determine the legality of an adoption, the agency looks to the law of the state where
the adoption took place. 20 C.F.R. § 404.356. Because N~ was adopted in Pennsylvania,
Pennsylvania law applies.
Under Pennsylvania law, any individual may be adopted, regardless of age or residence. 23
Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2311 (1981). Consent to the adoption is required of (1) the
adoptee, if over 12 years of age; (2) the spouse of the adopting parent, unless they
join in the adoption petition; (3) the parents or surviving parent of an adoptee who
has not reached the age of 18 years; (4) the guardian of an incapacitated adoptee;
or (5) the guardian of the person of an adoptee under the age of 18 years, if one,
or of the person(s) having custody of the adoptee (if any such person can be found),
whenever the adoptee has no parent whose consent is required. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann.
§ 2711(a)(1-5) (2004).
Additionally, “the consent of a former husband of the natural mother shall be required
if he was the husband of the natural mother at any time within one year prior to the
birth of the adoptee” unless there is proof that the husband is not the natural father
of the child. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2711(b). In its discretion, the court may
dispense with other consents other than that of the adoptee when the adoptee is over
18 years of age, or when the adoptee is under 18 years of age and has no living parent
whose consent is required. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2713 (1981).
The statutory requirements for consent to an adoption can be fulfilled if N~ herself
provided consent, as she is over the age of 12. The other provisions regarding consent
would not apply, as the spouse of the NH (N~’s natural mother) joined in the adoption
petition, N~ is older than 18 years of age, and the adoption petition indicates that
N~ does not have a guardian. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2711(a)(2), (3), (4), & (5). Likewise,
P~’s former husband and N~’s natural father, N1~, is deceased, and, therefore, his
consent could not be obtained. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2711(b).
Here, N~ has explicitly provided proof of consent in Exhibit “C” of the Petition for
Adoption, which states that “I, N~, an adult individual, being of sound mind, . .
. do hereby consent to the attached Petition for Adoption . . . .” N~ also provided consents by NH and
her natural mother at Exhibits “B” and “C” of the Petition for Adoption.
A Pennsylvania court has no authority to decree an adoption in the absence of the
statutorily required consents. In re Adoption of D., 769 A.2d 508, 509 (Pa. Super. 2001). As the Pennsylvania court decreed the adoption
of N~ on July 24, 2012 based on the consents from N~, P~, and the NH, we believe that
the adoption satisfies the requirements of Pennsylvania law. Accordingly, we conclude
that N~ is the legally adopted child of the NH for purposes of entitlement to benefits
on his record.
N~ is the Stepchild of the NH.
In addition to qualifying for benefits as the legally adopted child of the NH, N~
may also qualify for benefits as the stepchild of the NH. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(1),
404.357. To determine if N~ is the NH’s stepchild, N~’s natural mother must have married
the NH after N~’s birth, and this marriage must be either (1) a valid marriage under
state law or (2) a marriage which would be valid except for a legal impediment. 20
C.F.R. § 404.357. Additionally, if the NH were alive at the time N~ applied for benefits,
she must have been a stepchild for at least one year immediately preceding the date
of her application for benefits. Id.
According to the information provided, N~’s natural mother married the NH in July
2009 in Pennsylvania, which occurred after N~’s birth in 1984. This satisfies the
first requirement to qualify as a stepchild under the regulations.
The second requirement to qualify as a stepchild under the regulations is a valid
marriage or a marriage which would be valid except for a legal impediment. The marriage
between NH and N~’s natural mother appears to be valid under Pennsylvania law codified
at 23 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. §§ 1102, 1301, 1503(b).  The NH and N~’s mother are members of the opposite sex, and obtained license number
2009-000712, according to the documentation provided from the Marriage License Bureau.
The ceremony was performed in the County of Northampton, Pennsylvania by Minister
Gracher L. Selby. Under Pennsylvania law, this appears to be a legally valid marriage,
as NH and N~’s natural mother have met the enumerated requirements. 23 Pa. Con. Stat.
Ann. §§ 1102, 1301, 1503(b).
Finally, because the NH was alive at the time N~ applied for benefits, the regulations
specify that N~ must have been a stepchild for at least one year immediately preceding
the date of application for benefits. N~ applied for benefits on February 23, 2013,
which was more than one year after the July 31, 2009 marriage of the NH to N~’s natural
mother. The marriage occurred after N~’s birth in 1984, which satisfies the regulation
at 20 C.F.R. § 357. It therefore appears that N~ has met this portion of the regulatory
criteria to qualify as a stepchild as well.
Accordingly, it is likely that N~ also qualifies as a stepchild of the NH for purposes
of entitlement to benefits on his record.
N~ is Dependent on the NH Per the Regulations.
In addition to demonstrating that she is the NH’s legally adopted child or stepchild,
N~ must also demonstrate that she is dependent on the NH as defined in the regulations. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(2), 404.362. For the foregoing reasons, N~ likely meets the dependency
requirements as both a legally adopted child and a stepchild.
N~ Meets the Dependency Requirement as a Legally Adopted Child.
Under the regulations, a legally adopted child is presumed dependent on the insured
if she was adopted before the insured became eligible for disability benefits. 20
C.F.R. § 404.362(a). If the adoption occurred after the insured became entitled to
disability benefits, and the claimant was over eighteen years old at the time of the
adoption, the claimant must demonstrate that she was living with or receiving at least
one-half of her support from the insured for the year immediately preceding the month
in which the adoption occurred. 20 C.F.R.§ 404.362(b)(1)(ii).
According to the information provided, the NH filed an application for DIB on October
**, 2009; the application was approved on February **, 2010; and the allowance was
processed on April **, 2010. Because N~ was adopted on July **, 2012, a date well
after the NH became entitled to disability insurance benefits, it cannot be presumed
that she was dependent on the NH.
However, N~ can meet the dependency requirement by showing that she was living with
or receiving at least one-half of her support from the NH for the year immediately
preceding the month in which the adoption occurred. N~ indicated in her statement
that she has been living with the NH since December 1998 and that the NH has provided
support for N~ and her natural mother since December 1998. As N~ has lived with the
NH for more than one year proceeding the month in which the adoption occurred in July
2012, and has provided evidence that she was receiving support from the NH, she likely
satisfies the dependency requirement as a legally adopted child.
N~ Meets the Dependency Requirement as a Legally Adopted Stepchild.
The regulations also provide that if a stepchild is adopted after the insured became
entitled to benefits, she is considered to be dependent on the insured. 20 C.F.R.§
404.362(b)(2). As discussed above, N~ is the stepchild of the NH. Therefore, under
20 C.F.R.§ 404.362(b)(2), N~ most likely would be considered dependent on the insured
because she was legally adopted by the NH and was also his stepchild. 
N~ Meets the Remaining Requirements for Disabled Adult Child’s Benefits.
Finally, N~ meets the remaining requirements to be eligible for Disabled Adult Child’s
benefits. The remaining requirements for disabled adult child benefits are that the
disabled adult child: has applied for benefits; is unmarried; is eighteen years old
or older, and has a disability that began before she reached age twenty-two. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.350(a)(3), (4), & (5).
These remaining requirements have been met: (1) N~’s mother applied for child’s insurance
benefits on N~’s behalf on February **, 2013; (2) according to the Application Summary
for Child’s Insurance Benefits filed by N~’s mother on her behalf on February **,
2013, N~ is unmarried; and (3) based on N~’s birth certificate, she is currently 30
With regard to the requirement that the adult child has a disability that began before
age 22, it appears that N~ has been disabled since September **, 2002, when she was
eighteen years old. This is derived from the onset date established by N~’s October
2002 approval for SSI benefits based on the conditions of mental retardation and late
effects of cerebrovascular disease. Therefore, N~ satisfies the requirement of having
a disability that began before she reached age twenty-two.
For the above reasons, we conclude that N~’s adult adoption is valid under Pennsylvania
law and confers upon her parent-child relationship status. In the alternative, it
appears that N~ qualifies as the NH’s stepchild, which also confers parent-child relationship
In addition, N~ meets the other regulatory requirements for entitlement to Disabled
Adult Child benefits, as it appears that N~ is dependent on the NH, has applied for
benefits, is unmarried, is over the age of eighteen, and her disability began before
she turned twenty-two years old.
Accordingly, based on the foregoing reasons, we conclude that N~ is entitled to Disabled
Adult Child’s benefits on the NH’s account.
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
Evelyn Rose Marie Protano
Assistant Regional Counsel