TN 15 (11-12)

PR 01805.015 Idaho

A. PR 13-005 Effect of Termination of Parental Rights on Adopted Child’s Entitlement to Title II Auxiliary Benefits –Robert - SSN ~ - REPLY

DATE: February 16, 2006

1. SYLLABUS

Under Idaho law, termination of parental rights does not have the same effect as an annulment of an adoption, because these adoptions are defined differently under separate statutory provisions of the Idaho code.

Annulment presupposes a defect in the adoption itself, or in the parent-child relationship, rendering it void. By contrast, termination of rights does not have any effect, or indicate a problem, with the adoption or relationship.

Where a child is adopted before a number holder becomes entitled to benefits and the child then becomes an auxiliary beneficiary, the child gains deemed dependency status that survives any later termination of rights or adoption by another.

2. OPINION

QUESTION

Whether a child, adopted by a grandparent in Idaho, prior to the grandparent becoming entitled to old age benefits, remains entitled to auxiliary benefits on the grandparent’s account after termination of their parent-child relationship. As a subquestion, whether termination of parental rights by an adoptive parent has the same effect as an annulment of an adoption, pursuant to POMS RS 00203.035B.3.

ANSWER

In Idaho, termination of parental rights does not have the same effect as annulment of an adoption, because these actions are defined differently under separate statutory provisions in the Idaho Code. Annulment presupposes a defect in the adoption itself, or in the parent-child relationship, rendering it void. By contrast, termination of rights does not presuppose any defect or problem with the adoption or relationship. Indeed, the need to terminate rights suggests they were valid rights all along and that the adoption must not have been void and not subject to annulment. Where a child is adopted before a number holder becomes entitled to benefits and the child then becomes an auxiliary beneficiary, the child gains deemed dependency status that survives any later termination of rights or adoption by another. Therefore, the child here should continue to receive benefits.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On November 16, 1993, Robert, adopted his grandchild, Christopher. In an explanatory letter to his attorney, Robert explained that Christopher’s biological father abused him and that Christopher’s biological mother, Michelle, had asked Robert to adopt so Christopher could have a safe environment and a good father figure. Thus, Christopher’s birth certificate lists Robert/Joseph, the grandfather and adoptive father, as Christopher’s father.

In June 2002, Robert became entitled to Title II old age benefits. On June 15, 2002, Robert, as the wage earner, filed for auxiliary child’s benefits on behalf of Christopher. In June 2002, Christopher became entitled to auxiliary benefits on Robert’s account and has been receiving benefits continually since that time.

Christopher’s biological mother, now Michelle, later married George. On May 18, 2005, Michelle filed an amended Petition for Termination of Parent-Child relationship and Petition for Adoption so Robert could end his parent-child relationship with Christopher and George, now married to Michelle, could adopt Christopher.

On July 6, 2005, Robert signed a Consent to Termination of Parent-Child Relationship. In this Consent, Robert relinquished completely and forever all legal rights, privileges, duties, and obligations as they pertained to Christopher, specifically including all rights of inheritance to and from Christopher. In an explanatory letter, Robert stated that Christopher wanted to be fully part of his new family, living with his biological mother, his brother, and his new step father; he wanted to share his new father’s last name.

On July 6, 2005, in response to the Petition and Consent filed, respectively, by Michelle and Robert, an Idaho county court issued a Court Order for Termination of Parent-Child Relationship. The court cited as a basis for this termination Robert’s signed Consent relinquishing all rights as they pertained to Christopher. The court specifically terminated the parent-child relationship of Robert and Christopher on grounds of “best interest of the child.”

ANALYSIS

A child can establish entitlement to child’s benefits on the earnings record of an insured person entitled to old age benefits if the child is the child of the insured based on a relationship described in §§ 404.355-404.359; he is dependent on the insured as defined in §§404.360-365; and, he applies, is unmarried, and is 18 years of age or younger. 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a).

One of the relationships that satisfies the child status requirement is that of legally adopted child. 20 C.F.R. § 404.356. A legally adopted child is considered dependent upon the insured if the insured adopted the child prior to the insured’s own entitlement to old age benefits.

20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a). In this circumstance, the adopted child does not need to otherwise prove dependency. By contrast, if the child is adopted after an insured becomes entitled to old age benefits, the child must prove other dependency factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.362 (a) and (b).

Before becoming entitled to old age benefits, Robert legally adopted Christopher, under the laws of Idaho, satisfying the child status and deemed dependency requirements in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.356 and 414.362(a). Because the adoption occurred in Idaho, we would look to Idaho adoption law to resolve any questions about the adoption or dependency derived from it.

20 C.F.R. § 404.356.

Robert terminated the parent-child relationship by court order. Under Idaho law, a court may grant termination of a parent and child relationship if the termination is found to be in the best interest of the child. Idaho Code § 16-2005(3). A court may also grant termination of a parent and child relationship where a consent to termination, fitting a prescribed form, is filed in conjunction with a petition for adoption by the person(s) proposing to adopt the child. Idaho Code § 16-2005(4). Robert filed a consent fitting the prescribed form. The court then terminated Robert’s and Christopher’s parent and child relationship, citing the best interest of the child.

Adoptions can be annulled under Idaho law. See Idaho Code §§ 39-258(g) and 39-259 (d) (both discussing the court’s notification of the state vital statistics unit in the event of an adoption annulment); Vaughan v. Hubbard, 221 P. 1107 (Idaho 1923) (upholding an adoption annulment because of failure to satisfy all statutory requirements at the adoption’s inception). However, there are no specific statutory or regulatory requirements for annulment and there are no specific forms. By contrast, termination of a parent and child relationship does have specific statutory requirements. See Idaho Code § 16-2005. Specific forms are also required. See e.g. Idaho Code § 16-2005(4).

Idaho follows a rule of statutory construction that leads to the inference that, because they are described differently in different statutory schemes, termination of parental rights and adoption annulment constitute distinct actions. The construction principle is stated thus:

When a statute enumerates the areas which are to be encompassed in its enforcement, it is generally accepted that those areas not specifically mentioned are not to be included. In other words, the specific mention of one thing implies the exclusion of another.

State of Idaho v. Michael, 729 P.2d 405, 408 (Idaho 1986). This rule is referred to as expressio unius est exclusio alterius. See Poison Creek Publishing v. Central Idaho Publishing, 3 P.3d 1254, 1257 (Idaho Ct. App. 2000). This translates roughly as “expression of one thing excludes others.” See State of New Jersey v. Musso, 454 A.2d 449, 460 (N.J. Sup. Ct. Law Div. 1982). Applying the exclusio doctrine to the case at hand would mean that “adoption annulment” and “termination of parental rights” are separate and distinct actions because they appear in different portions of the Idaho Code and have different requirements.

Moreover, case law and general legal principles suggest that annulment presupposes a defect in the adoption itself, or in the parent-child relationship, rendering it void. For example, the Idaho Supreme court explained that an adoption may be annulled when it is defective at its inception. See V~, 221 P. at 1110. Generally, an annulment denotes more than the termination of a certain legal status; it renders the legal status invalid from the time that the legal status purportedly commenced. Grounds for annulment of adoption generally include fraud, misrepresentation, and undue influence. 2 Am. Jur. 2d Adoption § 159 (1995). In the case of marriage, "[a]n action or proceeding for the annulment of a marriage differs from a divorce proceeding in that the latter is instituted to sever a marriage relation admitted to exist, whereas an annulment proceeding is for the purpose of declaring judicially that because of some disability or defect which existed at the time of the marriage ceremony, no valid marriage ever took place between the parties or that no valid marriage relation ever existed between the parties." 4 Am. Jur. 2d Annulment of Marriage § 1 (1995). The fundamental difference between annulment and dissolution is that "an annulment renders the marriage void ab initio while a dissolution is based upon a valid marriage which terminates as of the date of the judgment of dissolution." Id.

By contrast, termination of parental rights does not presuppose any defect or problem with the adoption or relationship. Indeed, the need to terminate rights by court order and the need to give consent in a form described by statute, as Robert did in this case, suggests that the parental rights and the adoption were valid all along. Thus, the best analysis is that, in Idaho, the termination of parent-child relationship is not equivalent to annulment of an adoption.

Under the Program Operations Manual System (POMS), adoption of a child already entitled to benefits does not terminate the child's benefits. POMS RS 00203.035(C). Under the regulations and the POMS, adoption is not listed as a termination event. 20 C.F.R. § 404.352(b); POMS RS 00203.035(C). Put most strongly, adoption by a person other than the number holder does not terminate a child’s entitlement if the child could have been deemed dependent upon the number holder. POMS GN 00306.165. This is true even where the original adoptive parent has terminated inheritance rights and has not lived with and contributed to the child’s support. By contrast, if the child's benefits are based on an adoption that is subsequently annulled, those benefits terminate in the month in which the annulment becomes effective. POMS RS 00203.035(B) (3).

In analyzing entitlement requirements for a child adopted by someone other than the number holder, the POMS cuts out a specific exception to inheritance rights requirements and “living with and contributing to” requirements. This protection for children deemed dependent on a number holder is apparently an extension of the strengthened status conferred in the regulations to children adopted before a number holder becomes entitled to old age benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a). This is the circumstance in the case at hand. Robert adopted Christopher in 1993 and became entitled to old age benefits in 2002. Christopher thus obtained deemed dependency status.

In a former Agency opinion now in the POMS, we determined that an adopted child who is deemed dependent has vested rights in benefits that cannot be taken away by adoption by another person. See POMS PR 01320.034. The Ninth Circuit has given special protection to children who are deemed dependent on a number holder. See generally Gillett-Netting v. Barnhart, 371 F.3d 593 (9th Cir. 2004). We have acknowledged that special “deemed dependency” status in an Acquiescence Ruling to G~N~. See AR 05-1(9).

The most similar Agency opinion closely parallels the case here. Grandparents in Indiana adopted their grandchild, but later terminated their parental rights so the child could be adopted by her biological mother. In this circumstance, the child’s benefits were continued on the grandfather’s account, pursuant to POMS RS 00203.035 (C). See Memorandum from Regional Chief Counsel, Region V, to Assistant Regional Commissioner for Management and Operations Support, Chicago, Whether the Second Adoption of a Child Would Annul the First Adoption under Indiana Law (Prewitt) (December 14, 2000).

CONCLUSION

A child adopted before an insured becomes entitled to benefits gains deemed dependency status, which permits the child to continue to receive benefits on the insured’s account even after termination of the parent child relationship, unless there is an annulment. In Idaho, termination of parental rights does not constitute an annulment of an adoption. Therefore, the child remains entitled to benefits, under 20 C.F.R. § 404.362 and POMS RS 00203.035(C).


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PR 01805.015 - Idaho - 11/15/2012
Batch run: 11/15/2012
Rev:11/15/2012