Adoption and Inheritance (Not Seeking Legal Advice)

DISCLAIMERS: I am not your client, you are not my lawyer, blah blah blah. And anyway, this is all hypothetical and undoubtedly fictitious.

As a plot device in one of my favorite TV shows, a woman had had a child and put him up for adoption 25 years ago. She knows who he is, but he doesn’t know her. The woman and the young man’s father (a very wealthy businessman) still speak to each other. The mother wants something from the father, and he’s unwilling to give it, so mom threatens to give the son bank his dad’s bank account numbers, the name of his stock broker, and the name of a paternity lawyer.

In a general sense, would this threat carry any weight? If I put a child up for adoption and he finds me out, can he sue me for “his” share of my money? Would it make a difference if I was extraordinarily wealthy?

Hmmm… Ugly Betty. The last show was actually pretty good, it’s been going downhill since the strike.

IANAL, blah, blah. That bit in the show struck me as odd.

You can leave your money to whomever or whatever you want. The legal beagles will give you some warnings; if you “forget” someone in your will, you have to say why. (Joan Crawford, IIRC, did that to her adopted children - one final blow from the grave) There are ways to challenge a will, so you have to be sure that you don’t leave evidence that you were unduly influenced by one possible heir over another, etc. You MUST provide for dependent children - you can’t get out of child support even by dying.

An adult child has no claim over parents onc no longer dependent. And a child adopted out (as I assume happened in the show) loses any legal right to claim child support; the adopted parents supplant the real parents obligations. At any rate, child support claims expire when the child is 18 or finishes college - no longer dependent.

Whether there was some child support obligation because the father did not know and therefore never signed away rights during adoption, I don’t know. That’s a question for real lawyers. I suspect most places ahve a statute of limitations (since that case in the 90’s) where a parent who says nothing for 2 years cannot come back and claim a child. Regardless, an adult child has no claim for support or anything from a parent. And you can’t go for “back pay” support - most cases I’ve heard of, generally against the mother, say if she wanted support from way abck when she should have asked for it way back when.

So a better plot device - although it wouldn’t work in this situation - would be to have the child appear after the father’s death and demand a share of the inheritance. then, the logic before the court would be “if he had known about this son, he would have provided for him.” and the will would be invalidated… That scenario doesn’t work in this case.

Well, had the father specifically renounced paternal rights as part of the adoption process, or had he been listed as “unknown”? I’ve never heard of a case of adopted-off children suing their birthparents for inheritance in Spain, but unrecognized children suing the birthfather is relatively common; not just for inheritance but for overdue child support (which I don’t think would apply if the child has been put up for adoption at birth, but IANAL, I just have too many in the family). If the mother says one of the reasons she gave the kid away was the father’s refusal to recognize him, the father might find himself having to treat the child as any other children of his; if the father didn’t know or specially if he signed the adoption paperwork, he’d be much less likely to have this problem.

In most of Spain, a person’s children are automatically entitled to half his/her estate unless special measures have been called upon (Navarra and Euskadi are exceptional in that the children’s compulsory part is a lot smaller). This means things like many widows discovering that they can’t sell their flat without their children’s permission: if one of them decides to be an ass and refuse said permission, Mom can’t sell.

Not sure in Spain, but in Canada and the USA the parents have no obligation after the child is 18 unless he is still in school. Child support will carry on until the child leaves college then.

After that, all they can hope for is an inheritance. They have no other legal claim. And as I said, an inheritance can be denied at the parent’s whim. IIRC, Joan Crawford’ will said something like “I leave no inheritance to XXXX for reasosn she knows well.” That is perfectly legal in N. America.

Perhaps since Ugly Betty is copied off a Columbian (IIRC?) show, the plot bit was lifted from that show where the legal parental obligations to adult children are stronger? What does Spanish law say?

But any back child support owed doesn’t magically disappear when the child turns 18 or graduates college, though (from what I understand, it will come off income tax refunds, old age pension, etc.). I’d be interested to hear how someone who works with child support like this figures this would go.

The legal precedent I have heard of is usually aimed at the mother. It says “if you wanted child support back to 1995 you should have filed in 1995”. The courts may make exceptions for extenuating circumstances, like couldn’t locate the father; and also may come down harder on the father if it looks like he deliberately made efforts not to be found or otherwise avoid liability. But you can’t suddenly spring on someone, say, that they owe three times more than their annual income with no prior warning to allow them to plan for it. (IIRC, some lawyer in Canada mentioned that you’d be lucky to go back 2 years in any normal case).

The child support you are thinking of that does not disappear is a judgement that was awarded years ago and never paid (deadbeat dad stuff). Once you owe money, you owe it until paid.

Again, if a child is formally adopted then generally the original parents have no further legal rights or obligations. Certainly the mother can’t sue; the adopting parents can’t sue. If the child is over 18, he probably can’t sue except maybe for student loans outstanding, and even then - if it’s been 7 years since he turned 18, (this was a 25-yo son) the question would be “prove you started looking 7 years ago”.

The best he could hope for was public embarrassment - “National Enquirer - Child of Multi-Billionaire Has Nothing”.

I think this was just bad script-writing, and I wondered what the point was when I watched this episode.

Quite right.
Here in Minnesota, one of the duties in the state Child Support department is reading the obituaries every day, and checking each name against the list of people who owe back child support. When they find a match, the state enters a claim against the estate of the dead person.

So even being in your grave doesn’t free you from past due child support here.

Speaking in Illinois law terms, old child-support judgments don’t go away, but you can’t get a judgment for support retroactive to when you petition for it. (I don’t know offhand if there’s a way to file a petition against a John Doe father.) Another point–as best as I can recall, most states have cases saying that an adopted-out child is not treated as a child for purposes of will interpretation and intestate distribution. For a story to work about a child appearing for an inheritance, he or she would have to have not been adopted by someone else.