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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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."
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
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).
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