Watch what you promise and watch what you do.
You are married to the love of your life and she has children. Bum Bio Dad never pays child support so you pay for everything. You even discuss adoption with Mother so the children will be yours, too. Then you find out Mother saw you only as the ‘lust’ of her life, and her true ‘love’ was rediscovered at her high school reunion. She tells you ‘it’s over’ while wearing his letter jacket and you think “How could she fall for a mathlete over me?” As a parting gift, Mother files a case for child support against you. When do the promises of adoption turn to glue to stick to you?
The mechanism to pay child support for a step child falls under the doctrine of Equitable Adoption. It is a very narrow exception in Nevada Law binding non-parents to child support.
Merely being is a state of in loco parentis (lawyer for ‘in the place of a parent’) is insufficient to invoke the doctrine. This means that you can love and support the step children without any future child support problems. You can even discuss adoption. However, once you pass the “talking about it” stage and start to hire attorneys, or prepare paperwork from the Self Help website, the idea of child support starts to stick to you.
The leading case on equitable adoption, Frye v. Frye, is narrowly drawn, and in all mentions to it by the Nevada Supreme Court, its specific factual limitations are mentioned. Frye v. Frye, 103 Nev. 301, 738 P.2d 505 (1987). See Russo v. Gardner, 114 Nev.283, 956 P.2d 98 (1998). In Frye, the parties: 1) discussed adoption of the minor child; 2) Husband hired an attorney to cause an adoption of the Child; 3) Husband hired the attorney to successfully cause the termination of the Child’s parental rights from her biological father; 4) and, Husband knew this would leave the Child without any recourse for child support from the terminated parent. The Court stated “…where there is a promise to adopt, and in reasonable, foreseeable reliance on that promise a child is placed in a position where harm will result if repudiation is permitted, the courts of this state stand ready to provide such remedies as equity requires.”
In Sargeant v. Sargeant, 88 Nev. 223, 495 P.2d 618 (1972), the Husband provided full support and education for the child, and the child was given Husband’s name. And, Husband established a trust for the education of the child. He also promised to buy a home and automobile. This was not enough to cause an equitable adoption for child support, “Evidence of the husband’s affection for the child is manifold, but in the absence of even an unfulfilled promise to adopt, the doctrine of equitable adoption cannot apply…This, of course, establishes their standing in the place of a parent (loco parentis) but one may abandon the burdens attendant upon such status at any time…Nor will bare promises of future support convert this status to a degree of permanence on the theory that the husband is estopped from withdrawing from those promises.”
Live your life well. Love and care for the step children. If you do decide to go beyond “talking about it” and want to try adoption of the step children, visit a lawyer and get the facts. And…you wouldn’t perform your own appendectomy, likewise, don’t do your own lawyering.
Nevada Certified Family Law Specialist
Fellow, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
Fellow, International Academy of Family Lawyers