The Delaware Family Court Vacates a 1995 Adult Adoption in Order to Allow the Parties to Enter into a Civil Union

Delaware Fiduciary Litigation Blog

Posted May 1, 2013

In re the Adoption of C.A.H.W. File No. 95–05–03–A (March 28, 2013)

In 1995, “for the purposes of financial and estate planning and to formalize the close emotional relationship existing between them,”  the Petitioner H.M.A. legally adopted Respondent C.A.H.W. At the time of that adoption and for fifteen years thereafter, Delaware did not recognize civil unions. In 2011, however, Delaware passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions with all the rights and responsibilities of marriage under Delaware Law. Delaware’s governor signed that bill into law on May 11, 2011, and same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil unions since January 1, 2012.

H.M.A. and C.A.H.W. desired to enter into a civil union, and thus, sought relief pursuant to Family Court Civil Rule 60(b)(5) and 60(b)(6), arguing that it is no longer equitable for the decree of adoption to apply prospectively.

Delaware law prohibits civil union between a person and his “ancestor” or “descendant”, among others. But noting that the court can reopen and vacate adoptions in limited circumstances, the Family Court of Delaware for Sussex County, per  Judge Ryan, vacated the adult adoption on equitable grounds, upon a finding of “extraordinary circumstances” so that the parties could enter into a civil union.

In sum, while court orders are rarely vacated, the circumstances here were such that equity dictated that it be done.


William M. Kelleher, Director
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.