Clean Break Theory Adoption
The Illinois Supreme Court discussed the diminished need for a clean break in stepparent adoptions in Lingwall v. Hoener, 108 Ill. 2d 206, 483 N.E.2d 512, 516, 91 Ill. Dec. 166 (Ill. 1985).
The Lingwall court stated that "in adoptions involving strangers, the primary policy concern has traditionally been with maximizing the pool of potential adoptive parents. . . ." Id.
Complete termination of the rights of the natural parents guarantees "that the adoptive parents will have 'the opportunity to create a stable family relationship free from unnecessary intrusion.'" Id. (quoting In re Roger B., 84 Ill. 2d 323, 418 N.E.2d 751, 49 Ill. Dec. 731 (Ill. 1981)).
In contrast, "the act of becoming a stepparent most often occurs without regard to adoption and in spite of regular visitations between the child and the noncustodial natural parent." Id.
While a subsequent adoption by a stepparent terminates the rights and obligations of the natural parent, "termination of the parental relationship is . . . a legal fiction since no act of law can nullify a biological relationship." Id.
In light of these differences between two-parent and stepparent adoptions, the court found no reason to extend this legal fiction to terminate "a grandparental relationship unless it is in the child's best interest to do so." Id.
Other courts have likewise recognized a diminished need for a clean break in stepparent adoptions. the Iowa Supreme Court reasoned that the
"'fresh start' policy . . . is much less compelling where, as here, the child is adopted only by a stepparent. In a very real sense, in such an adoption, the status of the child changes very little.
A natural parent remains a parent. the child's home does not change. the adults caring for him or her are the same. In many cases the child's name will not change. If there is any real change, it is primarily in the status of the adopting parent."
In re A.C., 428 N.W.2d 297, 300 (Iowa 1988) (quoting Patterson v. Keleher, 365 N.W.2d 22, 25 (Iowa 1985)); accord Hicks v. Enlow, 764 S.W.2d 68 (Ky. 1989); Kanvick v. Reilly, 233 Mont. 324, 760 P.2d 743 (Mont. 1988); Mimkon v. Ford, 66 N.J. 426, 332 A.2d 199 (N.J. 1975); Hedrick v. Hedrick, 90 N.C. App. 151, 368 S.E.2d 14 (N.C. Ct. App. 1988);
see also In re Marriage of Aragon, 764 P.2d 419 (Colo. Ct. App. 1988); In re Groleau, 585 N.E.2d 726 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992); Howell v. Rogers, 551 So. 2d 904 (Miss. 1989); Rigler v. Treen, 442 Pa. Super. 533, 660 A.2d 111 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1995).
Accordingly, the legislature could have rationally concluded that grandparent visitation previously permitted by a trial court under A.R.S. section 25-409 could continue after a stepparent adoption even though such visitation would terminate after a two-parent adoption.
Because the legislature could have rationally concluded that the distinction between two-parent and stepparent adoptions warrants differential treatment regarding grandparent visitation, and because that differential treatment furthers the legitimate state interest of supporting caring relationships between family members, A.R.S. section 25-409(F) does not violate the principles of equal protection and is thus constitutional.
The classification in A.R.S. section 25-409(F) survives rational basis scrutiny. In upholding A.R.S. section 25-409 in Graville, we concluded that the state has a legitimate interest in "promoting healthy family relationships that enable children to become well-adjusted, responsible adults," including "the continuation of caring relationships . . . among grandchildren and their grandparents." 195 Ariz. at 125, P26, 985 P.2d at 610.
After a two-parent adoption, however, the state's interest in promoting healthy relationships between grandchildren and their biological grandparents is outweighed by the need to make a clean break with the child's past. Cf. In re Maricopa County Juv. Action No. JA-502394, 186 Ariz. 597, 599, 925 P.2d 738, 740 (App. 1996)(Kleinschmidt, J., concurring).
But this limitation does not prohibit the legislature from rationally concluding that a stepparent adoption is materially different from a two-parent adoption in that a stepparent adoption does not involve the same need to make a clean break with the child's past.