Most people think of adoption as making an existing family relationship whole, particularly when an adult adoption is being made. Many reasons can hold an adoption of a minor back until the age of majority, such as not being able to get the birth parents’ consent, or in the case of stepparents, the child not feeling close enough to the stepparent to be adopted so soon. But typically, one would expect an adult who agrees to be adopted by another to have some form of parent-child relationship with the person about to adopt her. Otherwise, why would she even consent to being adopted?
Maybe for access to the trust he set up for his teenaged kids, worth up to an annual payment of $5,000,000? It’s why the multimillionaire founder of the polo club in Wellington, Florida, John Goodman, age 48, adopted his 42 year old girlfriend.
The sordid tale gets better though. One might wonder why Goodman did not just marry his sweetheart, Heather Hutchins, and the truth is that then neither Goodman nor Hutchins would have access to the trust he set up for his children (who also cannot receive proceeds from the trust until they reach the age of 35). And considering Goodman is charged with manslaughter and facing a possible 30 year prison sentence on top of potentially staggering punitive damages in the civil suit brought by the victim’s parents, he is going to want as much access to that trust as possible.
In February of 2010, Goodman was driving under the influence, and hit into 23-year-old Scott Wilson. Goodman then proceeded to run away from the scene of the accident on foot and waited an hour before calling 911. Meanwhile, Wilson’s car had flipped from the accident into a drainage ditch, causing the unconscious victim to drown. Goodman’s trial is expected to start March 6, where he will be charged with manslaughter while driving under the influence, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash.
But it is the civil suit brought by Wilson’s parents against Goodman that led to Hutchins’ adoption. Initially, the judge did not want to make the trust in question accessible for the damages to be awarded to the Wilsons, as it was intended for Goodman’s children. Clearly, Goodman took this as a signal that the trust was in a “safe zone,” and figured that by adopting Hutchins’, he would have access to the trust through her, even if he goes to jail.
This strategy has angered just about everyone who has heard of it, most notably the judge in the civil case, who is considering making Hutchins’ one-third of the trust fair game now. So there might be some justice in the world.
How was this adoption even legal in the first place though? It is already being challenged, under the theory that the Judge who approved the adoption was unaware of their intimate relationship.
However, in Florida, there are very few requirements necessary in adult adoption. Namely, consent of the adoptee, her birth parents and her spouse (if any). And believe it or not, adult adoptions typically are made so that the adoptee can have access to the adopter’s trust account. Adult adoptions, particularly when used as an alternative-to-marriage for gays and lesbians (before marriage was available), are a vehicle for a beneficiary of a large trust to have his or her partner become the next beneficiary upon death. But in Goodman’s case, he made the trust for his children years ago, and now wants to make it accessible for himself through Hutchins. That is what makes this scenario so unusual, and not so much that Hutchins’ is Goodman’s girlfriend (after all, it’s been done before).