TALLAHASSEE —The 1st District Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling that vacated a 2004 adoption because the appellee lacked proper standing to challenge the adoption, according to court records.
Judge Timothy Osterhaus authored the opinion with Judges Harvey Jay and Allen Winsor concurring, reversing a prior decision from the Circuit Court for Okaloosa County.
In 2004, John Adam Edwards adopted Brindley Kuiper. Edwards' great-grandparents had established a trust to financially aid their dependents so the adoption made Kuiper a legal beneficiary to current and future trust payments.
Edwards' biological son, Ryan Maxwell, claimed that he only became aware of the adoption in 2014 and immediately filed suit to challenge the legality of the proceeding.
Maxwell said that as a beneficiary of the trust, he should have been provided proper notification because he maintains a legal interest in financial decisions made by the trust.
The Circuit Court for Okaloosa County agreed with Maxwell and issued an order vacating the adoption and stopping all disbursements from the trust to Kuiper.
Maxwell’s claim was dependent on whether he had a legal expectation of receiving notice of the adoption under the law in 2004, the opinion said. According to Osterhaus, the legal holding in 2004 was Rivera-Berrios v. Stefanos, 649 So.2d 881 (Florida 5th District Court of Appeals, 1994).
In that case, the court held that a party “must show a direct, financial, and immediate interest in an adoption to be entitled to notice, or to have legal standing to vacate an adoption order.”
Osterhaus further stated that it is the trustees who maintain total discretion as to who receives disbursements and when such disbursements are distributed. Osterhaus said that Maxwell had no direct or immediate financial interest in the adoption as the law stood in 2004.
Osterhaus also said that Maxwell’s interest as financial beneficiary is only contingent, as the trust is managed and administered solely at the discretion of the trustees.
“A person with an indirect interest or contingent interest in an adoption does not have the standing to set aside a judgment of adoption," Osterhaus wrote.
In his counter argument to the appeal, Maxwell cited the holding in Rickard v. McKesson, 774 So. 2d 838 (Florida 4th District Court of Appeals, 2000). In Rickard, the 4th District Court held that a contingent beneficiary was entitled to notice if an adoption diluted that beneficiary’s entire financial interest in a trust
Osterhaus called the Rickard holding “good law” but said that because Maxwell did not lose his entire financial interest in the trust, the Rickard holding did not apply.
The case was remanded back to the Circuit Court for Okaloosa County with instructions that the final order of adoption is reinstated.