Legalization of Same-sex Marriages in Pennsylvania Causing Adoption Reversals

January 23, 2017
Lindsay M. Schoeneberger

In a historic 2014 ruling, the U.S. District Court in Whitewood v. Wolf made same-sex marriage legal in Pennsylvania. This ruling, while finally allowing a sizable segment of the population the same legal freedoms heterosexual couples have always enjoyed created problems for some same-sex couples that had done their best to take care of one another in a pre-Whitewood world.

Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, it was not uncommon for same-sex couples to go through an adult adoption. This was the only method available to them to create a legal family unit. By one partner adopting the other, couples were able to enjoy some of the protections and benefits only available to families. One of those benefits was a reduction of inheritance taxes. Prior to the Whitewood ruling, when one partner of a same-sex couple died, the other partner would have to pay 15% inheritance tax because the surviving partner was simply viewed as “other heir” under the tax code. Imagine paying 15% tax on assets you helped acquire during your relationship, while married heterosexual couples were taxed at 0% on the same inheritance. By adopting one’s partner, same-sex couples created a legally recognized family unit and reduced inheritance to the 4.5% of lineal heirs. While a vast improvement, the solution was far from perfect.

The legalization of same-sex marriage created a legal quagmire for those couples who had completed an adult adoption. Even with the legalization of same-sex marriage, it was still illegal to marry your legal child or parent. The adoption laws did not provide a mechanism to dissolve the adoptions absent a showing of fraud. Thankfully for these families, a three-judge Superior Court panel recently ruled that in circumstances such as this, Pennsylvania law will permit the unopposed annulment or revocation of adult adoptions. This will allow hundreds of couples to finally be able to legally marry. If you or a loved one find yourself in a similar situation, it would be best to consult with a qualified legal professional who focuses on adoptions. While reversing an adult adoption of this sort is now legal, it is hardly commonplace.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Family Law.