How a Decision to Sever a Child-Parent Relationship Can Affect Your Child’s Inheritance Rights
Once paternity of a child is established under Florida law, the father cannot unilaterally sever the parent-child relationship. Instead, certain procedures must be followed. Even in cases where the biological father agrees to termination in order to permit a stepparent adoption, the original paternity relationship remains in effect until a court signs a final order approving the adoption.
Failure to Finalize Adoption Before Father’s Death Kept Child’s Inheritance Rights Intact
A recent decision from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals, Thompson ex rel. R.O.B. v. Johnson, illustrates how strictly the law is applied in these situations. This case involves a minor, identified in court records by the initials “ROB,” whose biological father passed away. The father previously initiated a paternity lawsuit in 2014. As a result of that case, the father was ordered to pay retroactive and ongoing child support to ROB’s mother, who retained sole custody of the child.
Some years later, when a dispute arose over the father’s alleged failure to meet his support obligations, both parents asked a judge to terminate the father’s parental rights in order to permit a stepparent adoption by the mother’s husband. A court approved the request and the father signed a consent to the adoption–which would legally sever his own parent-child relationship with ROB.
Sadly, the father died before the court entered the final adoption order. This led to a second legal dispute over the fate of the father’s life insurance policy. Under the terms of the policy, the proceeds would go to the father’s surviving children, but if he had no children then it would go to his parents. The parents claimed they were the rightful beneficiaries, as ROB was no longer legally their grandson with inheritance rights. ROB’s mother objected, noting that since the adoption was not technically final when the biological father died, the parent-child relationship intact–and ROB was still his father’s lawful heir.
A circuit court judge sided with the parents. But the Fifth District reversed in favor of ROB and his mother. Both courts actually agreed that ROB was still the biological father’s legal child at the time of death. Where the courts disagreed is whether the use of term “children’ in the life insurance policy should have been read to reflect the father’s “intentions.” The Fifth District said intent was irrelevant. The word “child” has a “clear and unambiguous” meaning, and when it comes to enforcing a contract like a life insurance policy, that meaning typically controls.
Contact a Tampa, Florida, Family Law Attorney Today
Paternity cases often impact a broad range of legal rights for both the potential parent and the child. That is why it is important to seek qualified legal advice from an experienced Tampa paternity lawyer if you are involved in any type of family law dispute. Contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team.