A West Palm Beach air conditioning fortune heir has adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend, turning an on-going legal battle into a tricky law-bending situation.
John Goodman, who also founded the Wellington polo club, is being charged for the death of Scott Wilson, and is also facing a lawsuit from the deceased's parents. Authorities allege Goodman drove drunk at twice the legal limit and sped through a stop sign, killing Wilson.
An attorney for Goodman told CBS affiliate WPEC in West Palm Beach, Fla. that his client decided on the adoption of his girlfriend, Heather Hutchins, "for estate planning purposes and to ensure protection of both his and her minor children and the stability of all the family investments."
The Palm Beach Post reported that a Fla. judge ruled that the Wilson family cannot get any money from the trust that Goodman had previously set up for his biological children.
By adopting his girlfriend, she is now entitled one-third of the beneficiary interest in his trust. Because she is over the age of 35, she will be able to receive her share immediately. The couple has been dating since 2009, and she is now Goodman's third legal child.Goodman's attorney claimed to the Palm Beach Post the adoption had nothing to do with the lawsuit. But, not all lawyers agree.
"I suppose the argument's going to be, 'Well, if she's getting (the money), then by nature of the fact that she's your girlfriend, then you too are getting it,'" West Palm Beach attorney Elisha Roy, treasurer of the State Bar's Family Law section, told WPEC.
Roy said estate planning typically is a normal reason for adult adoptions, but says adopting a significant other is almost never seen.
A judge for the civil lawsuit filed by Wilson's parents wrote in his ruling that "the court cannot ignore the practical implications of directing trust assets to Ms. Hutchins," saying the adoption move "take(s) the court into a legal twilight zone."
Both of Goodman's civil and criminal trials are set to take place in March at the Palm Beach County courthouse. He is facing DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash charges and could receive up to 30 years in prison if convicted.