The outraged kids of International Polo Club Palm Beach tycoon John Goodman are demanding that a judge throw out their dad's move to adopt his 42-year-old girlfriend, accusing him of intentionally duping the court.In all the centuries of parents embarrassing their teenage children, Goodman might well win the grand prize with this little trick. I certainly don't blame the kids for being upset -- it's pretty outrageous behavior on the part of a parent. But it's also an interesting legal point -- can biological or previously adopted children challenge the legality of a subsequent adoption?
Goodman, 48, is accused of drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter in the death of 23-year-old Scott Wilson in February 2010.
In a stunning move last fall, Goodman adopted his girlfriend Heather Laruso Hutchins, 42, entitling her to up to a third of his biological children's trust fund, worth $300million.
Harriet and John Jr - who are in their teens - are now fighting the adoption, charging their father with intentionally committing fraud and making a mockery of the adoption process.
The Palm Beach Post reported that a motion was filed in Miami-Dade court on behalf of the children’s guardian, Jeffrey Goddess, arguing that they and their mother had no idea the adoption had taken place until two months after it was finalised.
The motion reads: The motion continues, 'If Mr. Goodman would like to protect her and take care of her financially, the obvious solution would be to marry her - not to make her his child.'
Their attorney, Joseph Rebak told the paper: 'I have never seen anything like this in my 31, 32 years practicing law. Obviously we think it's wrong and we are hoping to have it set aside.'
But longtime adoption lawyer Charlotte Danciu told CBS 12 that she’s 'not sure these children will actually have the standing to challenge the adoption.'
Of course, the children would have no grounds to complain if Daddy had another biological child, right? Adding another child to the mix would, in fact, reduce the potential inheritance of previous children or reduce their share of a trust created for all children of the parent, regardless of whether the child was added to the mix via adoption or birth. So no right to complain that Daddy adopted Heather, right?
Umm, maybe; maybe not. A will or trust listing the beneficiaries as "children of X" would only go to the legal children of X. Beneficiaries couldn't complain about the fact that Daddy had more legal children, thus diluting the share of existing children in a pot of money. But beneficiaries can certainly tangle over who is actually a legal child of X; that might include a challenge to biological paternity or a challenge to the legality of an adoption. (This is one of the reasons international adoptive parents are encouraged to "re-adopt" in the U.S., to make sure that a later legal challenge to the adoption proceedings in another country -- either upon divorce of the adoptive parents, when one is trying to duck child support obligations, or upon probate, when other beneficiaries might seek to lop off some beneficiaries to increase their share of the pie -- will have less chance of success.)
So, yes, I think Goodman's previous children can legally challenge the new adoption, though whether they can challenge NOW will depend on the terms of the trust, and in particular how the trust payouts are structured. If it were simply a will, I'd say they couldn't challenge it until Daddy died and the will was in probate.
Of course, this would all be irrelevant if a will or the trust listed named individuals as beneficiaries -- leaving his money to Heather wouldn't give the kids grounds to complain, or at least not complain on the grounds that her adoption wasn't legally effective to make her his child. But doing it that way wouldn't meet his apparant objective of adding her to a trust that he thinks insulates his assets from any judgement in that wrongful death lawsuit.
Oh, and I should mention that I'm not a trust or probate attorney, I know nothing about the actual facts of the case other than what I've read in the newspaper, and this is not legal advice! There, CYA done!
Ah, what a tangled web we weave. . . .