This memorandum is in response to your request for an opinion regarding the type of
child relationship existing between the number holder, Randle (the NH), and his adult
adopted daughter in order to determine whether the adult adopted daughter is entitled
to benefits on the NH’s account. Your request asks for a determination of the validity
of the adult adoption under New Mexico State law. However, as discussed below, because
the Social Security Administration (the agency) applies the laws of the State where
the adoption took place, which is Texas, we apply Texas State law to determine the
validity of this adult adoption. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.356.
In our opinion, the NH’s adoption of his wife’s twenty-two year old daughter was valid
because it met the requirements of the Texas adult adoption statute. Thus, the adopted
daughter would be eligible for benefits on the NH’s record as a legally adopted child.
Although Dana may be entitled to disabled child’s benefits as the step-child of the
NH, we need not address that issue as we have determined that Dana is eligible for
disabled child benefits as the adopted child of the NH. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.357.
According to the information that you have provided, the NH married Collysue (Randle)
in September 1984. The NH subsequently filed a petition to adopt Randle’s twenty-two
year old daughter, Dana on January 21, 1992, in the Brazos County Court in Bryan,
Texas. Randle consented to the adoption and joined in the petition for adoption. Dana,
who was born on August, signed a consent to adoption, and the court granted the petition
for adoption after a hearing on March 23, 1992.
Dana protectively filed an application for Title II disabled adult child’s benefits
in August 2012 on the NH’s record Dana has periodically received Title XVI disability
benefits from 1974 to the present. She married James in April 1992, but that marriage
ended in divorce in February 1998.
The NH began receiving Title II retirement benefits based on an October 2012 date
The Social Security 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
Dana in Texas; therefore, Texas law, not New Mexico law, is controlling. We would
note that even if New Mexico law were controlling in this case, the state of New Mexico
recognizes “[e]very judgment establishing the relationship of parent and child by
adult adoption issued pursuant to due process of law by the tribunals of any other
jurisdiction within or without the United States, …so that the rights and obligations
of the parties as to matters within the jurisdiction of this state [New Mexico] shall
be determined as though the judgment were issued by the courts of this state.” N.M.
Stat. Ann. § 40-14-15.
Texas recognizes the validity of an adult adoption. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 162.501. To
be adopted, the adult must consent in writing. Id. at § 162.504. If the petitioner is married, both spouses must join in the petition
for adoption. Id. at § 162.503. The court will hold a hearing, which both the petitioner and adult
to be adopted must attend. Id. at § 162.505. At the time of the NH’s adoption of Dana in 1992, Texas Family Code
§ 16.51 et seq. governed the adoption of adults. However, the requirements for the
adoption of an adult under the prior statute are the same requirements under the current
statute, Texas Family Code § 162.501 et seq., which became effective on April 20,
1995. Although 20 C.F.R. § 404.356 does not provide guidance on which version of the
State law to apply when determining who is an insured’s legally adopted child, consistent
with 20 C.F.R. § 404.355 (b) (3) and (4), we look to current State law.
However, for good cause shown, the court may waive the attendance requirement by
written order. Id. A court must grant the adoption if the court finds that the parties have met all
requirements for the adoption of an adult. Id. at § 162.506. There is no requirement under the current or previous statute governing
the adoption of an adult for the consent or termination of rights of the biological
parents as is generally required in the case of the adoption of a child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 162.001(b) (a child residing in the state may be adopted if
(1) the parent-child relationship of each living parent has been terminated, or a
suit for termination is joined with the suit for adoption; or (2) the parent whose
rights have not been terminated is the spouse of the petitioner and the proceeding
is for a stepparent adoption). Our research also reveals no court decision which imposes
such a requirement.
Once a court grants the adoption, the adopted adult is the son or daughter of the
adoptive parent. Id. at § 162.507. Thus, the agency considers an adult validly adopted by a number holder
in Texas as 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”).
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-37c, which cites Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370 (6th Cir. 1973), holds that the agency is not free to ignore a state
court adjudication 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 Brazos County Court adjudication may not meet all four requirements. SSR
With respect to the first G~ prong, the Brazos County court issued a Decree of Adoption of Adult on March 23, 1992,
ordering that the adoption of Dana by the NH be granted, and that Dana henceforth
be the daughter of the NH. The Brazos County court has proper jurisdiction over family
law cases. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 162.502 (the petition to adopt an adult shall be filed in the
district court or a statutory county court granted jurisdiction in family law cases
and proceedings by Chapter 25 of the Government Code, in the county of the petitioner’s
residence); Tex. Gov’t. Code Ann. § 25.0232 (a county court at law in Brazos County
has concurrent jurisdiction with the district court in family law cases and proceeding). Therefore
the Brazos County Court decree meets the first G~ prong.
With regard to the third G~ prong, adult adoption issues fall within general domestic law in Texas as adult adoptions
are provided for under the Texas Family Code. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 162.001. The agency generally defers to a state court’s order
interpreting state law, especially in those areas where a domestic relations or similar
question arises under state law and the Social Security Act specifically incorporates
State law requirements. See G~, 474 F.2d at 1373 (stating that special deference should be given to the resolution
of domestic relations problems by the state court, as the states have traditionally
been considered the exclusive arbiter of such problems). Thus, the Brazos County Court
decree meets the third G~ prong.
With regard to the fourth G~ prong, the Brazos County Court decree is consistent with the law that the Texas highest
courts’ have enunciated. As recognized by the court in Hagaman v. Morgan, 886 S.W.2d 398, 401 (Tex. App. – Dallas 1994), the Texas Family Code has specific
provisions for dealing with the adoption of adults, and, as demonstrated below, all
the requirements for the valid adoption of an adult have been met in this case. Thus,
Brazos County Court decree is consistent with the law enunciated by Texas’ highest
court and meets the fourth G~ prong. See SSR 83-37c.
However, the second G~ prong, that the issue be genuinely contested before the State court by parties with
opposing interests, is in question in this case. We believe that the issue of the
valid adoption of an adult in this case was a potentially contested matter. Although
we have found no Texas statutory or case law that defines when an issue is “genuinely
contested” in a state court, the Texas Administrative Procedure Act (APA) gives us
guidance. Under the Texas APA, a “contested case means a proceeding, including a ratemaking
or licensing proceeding, in which the legal rights, duties, or privileges of a party
are to be determined by a state agency after an opportunity for adjudicative hearing.” Tex.
Gov’t. Code Ann. § 2001.003. Although the Texas APA specifically provides that it
is not applicable to courts, we believe its definition of “contested case” is instructive. See Tex Gov’t. Code Ann. § 2001.003. The court in Ramirez v. Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, 927 S.W.2d 770, 772 (Tex. App – Austin 1996) recognized that the term “adjudicative
hearing” as contained within the APA’s definition of “contested case” is a hearing
at which the decision-making agency hears evidence and, based on that evidence and
acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity, determines the rights, duties, or privileges of the parties before it (emphasis
In this case, the Brazos County Court issued its decree, determining the parties’
legal rights, after a hearing. While we believe the issue of a valid adult adoption
was contested before a state court, we must look for parties with opposing interests. As
the court noted in Roberts v. Roberts, 405 S.W.2d 211, 213 (Tex. App. – Waco 1966), a party who has an interest in opposing
the object sought to be accomplished is a party “adversely interested.” Because all
three parties consented to the adoption, there was no party to NH’s adoption of Dana
who was adversely interested. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “adverse interest” as
“[a]n interest that is opposed or contrary to that of someone else.” Black’s Law Dictionary, 54 (7th ed. 1999).
However, where potentially adverse parties (such as an adoptee’s natural parents)
are not required to appear by state law, it is circular to require their joinder as
a pro forma pre-requisite for entitlement. While we find that the Brazos County Court
decree may not meet the requirements of G~ and SSR 83-37c, and we are not bound to
accept it, we nonetheless believe that because the adoption was valid under Texas
law we are free to accept it.
In this case, the NH filed an Original Petition To Adopt An Adult on January 21, 1992,
in Brazos County Court, seeking to adopt his twenty-two year old stepdaughter, Dana. Randle,
Dana’s mother and the NH’s wife, gave her consent to the adoption and joined in the
petition. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 162.503. Dana consented in writing to be adopted. No documentation
or information has been presented to us to indicate that Dana did not have the capacity
to give valid consent to the adoption. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 162.504. The Brazos County Court entered a “Decree of Adoption”
dated March 23, 1992, granting the NH’s adoption of Dana. The Decree of Adoption
states that a hearing was held on March 23, 1992, and that the NH, Mrs. Lawson, and
Dana appeared at the hearing. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 162.505. The court granted the adoption, finding that the court
had jurisdiction of the subject matter and the parties, that the adult to be adopted
had signed and acknowledged a consent to adoption that was filed on March 23, 1992,
and that all requirements of the law had been met. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 162.506. Thus, all the legal requirements were met for a valid
adult adoption under Texas law, i.e., Dana consented in writing to the adoption; the
NH, the petitioner, and his spouse joined in the petition; the court held a hearing,
which the NH and Dana attended; and the court found the parties met all the requirements
for an adult adoption. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 162.501 – 162.507.
In summary, we believe that the NH validly adopted Dana as his daughter under Texas
law, and therefore Dana is the NH’s legally adopted child. Thus, Dana is eligible
to receive benefits on the NH’s record.
Regional Chief Counsel
Martin W. Long
Assistant Regional Counsel