Nevada Supreme Court Publishes Opinion on Pecos Law Group’s Successful Appeal in Same-Sex Paternity and Equitable Adoption Case
The Nevada Supreme Court has issued a published decision in Nguyen v. Boynes, 133 Nev. Op. 32 (June 22, 2017), agreeing with Pecos Law Group’s argument that the doctrine of equitable adoption applies to same-sex parents.
The doctrine of equitable adoption is an equitable remedy that allows a court to enforce an adoption where no formal adoption has taken place. The doctrine requires circumstances “where there is a promise to adopt, and in reasonable, foreseeable reliance on that promise a child is placed in a placed in a position where harm will result if repudiation is permitted.” Frye v. Frye, 103 Nev. 301, 303, 738 P.2d 505, 506 (1987). Historically, the Nevada Supreme Court has only applied the equitable adoption doctrine to enforce an adoption when a non-biological parent has sought to use the lack of a formal adoption to avoid his or her child support obligation.
In Nguyen v. Boynes, neither party sought to avoid child support, but rather Pecos Law Group’s client, Mr. Boynes, asked the court to apply the doctrine of equitable adoption in support of his effort to maintain his rights and obligations as a parent—including his obligation to support his child. Mr. Boynes and his partner, because they were not married or domestic partners, had initially agreed to adopt their child through two separate adoptions. Unfortunately, after the first adoption took place Mr. Boynes partner refused to allow a second adoption to proceed.
Despite the lack of a formal second adoption, Mr. Boynes, with the approval of his partner, continued to act as a father to the child. It was not until the child was nearly a year and a half old, when Mr. Boynes’ partner told Mr. Boynes that he could no longer see the child, that Mr. Boynes sought a determination of his paternity in the district court.
After a lengthy trial, with numerous witnesses, the district court determined that Nevada’s paternity statutes applied to Mr. Boynes and that he was indeed the child’s father. Alternatively, the district court ruled that if it should be determined that the Nevada paternity statutes did not apply, the doctrine of equitable adoption would apply to Mr. Boynes.
Oral argument before the full Nevada Supreme Court took place on January 4, 2017 in Carson City, Nevada, and on June 22, 2017 the Court released its opinion. In its published opinion, all seven justices of the Court agreed with Pecos Law Group and the district court that Mr. Boynes is, and shall remain, the child’s father. The four-justice majority reasoned that the doctrine of equitable adoption applied to Mr. Boynes and that he had an intent to adopt; he had made a promise to adopt; there was justifiable reliance on that promise; and harm would result if the promise were repudiated. The other three justices determined that Mr. Boynes was the child’s father under the Nevada paternity statutes because the statutes apply to same-sex couples and Mr. Boynes had held himself out as the child’s father under NRS 126.051(1).