Tuesday, March 12, 2013

O'Neal v. Wilkes case brief

O'Neal v. Wilkes case brief summary
263 Ga. 850

SYNOPSIS: Appellant orphan sought review of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict entered by the Liberty Superior Court (Georgia) in favor of appellee executor in a virtual adoption action.

OVERVIEW: Appellant child's mother died when she was a child, and her father never legitimized or supported appellant. Appellant's aunt allowed the decedent to raise appellant and the decedent referred to appellant as his child. Appellant brought a virtual adoption action to obtain a share of the decedent's property after he died. The trial court entered judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of appellee executor. On appeal, the court affirmed.

The court held that in order for a contract for adoption to be valid, it must be made between persons competent to contract for the disposition of the child.

The court held that the aunt, who had physical custody of appellant but was never appointed legal custodian or guardian of appellant, had no authority to contract for appellant's adoption to decedent. The court also recognized that the consent of appellant's father was unnecessary because he had never legitimized nor supported the child.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the judgment notwithstanding the verdict granted by the trial court in favor of the administrator.

O’Neal v. Wilkes (Ga. 1994) [14 CB 94]: O’Neal was raised by her mother, who dead when she was young.  She ended up in the care of the Cooks, who never adopted her but treated her as their daughter, including referring to her as such.  O’Neal sought to declare a virtual or equitable adoption so that she could inherit from the Cooks.  Rule: A virtual adoption can arise by contract only between the putative adoptive parent and a party with authority to give the child up for adoption; the person that gave O’Neal to the Cooks did not have such authority and therefore, no virtual adoption occurred.
i.    Dissent: Equity should enforce this adoption where the putative adoptive child has played the role for years and thus sufficiently establishes the existence of a contract to adopt the child
ii.   Somebody could’ve through court order gotten legal custody of O’Neal and thus been in the position to give her up for adoption to the Cooks

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