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from www.chron.com – A Florida appeals court ruled Wednesday that a millionaire polo playboy from Houston cannot legally adopt his longtime girlfriend, only seven years his junior.
Precisely why John Goodman, the 49-year-old heir to an air-conditioning fortune, wanted to “adopt” Heather Hutchins was never entirely clear – money was at the center of it, though explanations differed – but that reason is now moot. A three-judge panel unanimously held that Goodman’s failure to tell his ex-wife and his teenage children of the adoption until it was a done deal violated their right to due process.
Goodman was facing a Florida criminal trial last year for killing a fellow motorist while allegedly drunk when it was learned that he had adopted Hutchins, 42. His attorney explained that the unusual legal move had to do with estate planning. His two teenage children, however, claimed it was done so he could get his hands on some of the money in the trust fund he had set up on their behalf.
The fund’s trustee and Goodman’s ex-wife, the children’s mother, filed a lawsuit asking that courts overturn the adoption. The Miami appeals court agreed.
“Goodman’s concealment of the adoption proceeding deprived the children of an opportunity to address the trial court and present their objections,” the judges said in a nine-page opinion.
Goodman is a longtime Houston resident and polo enthusiast who in recent years has spent much of his time in Palm Beach, where he built a major venue for national and international polo matches. Facing a potential prison sentence if convicted in the 2010 two-car accident, he and Hutchins executed the adoption in October 2011 and did not tell anyone until the beginning of 2012 after the objection period ended. The appeals court called that “fraud.”
In a separate addendum, Senior Judge Alan R. Schwartz went further: “Even if the motivation and the means for securing it were not so reprehensible, I believe … the adoption of a paramour is so contrary to the beneficent purposes of such an action that no such judgment can ever be sustained.”
Records reveal that Hutchins and Goodman entered in an adoption contract that paid her $16.75 million: $5 million at the signature of the agreement, another $3 million by the end of 2012 and lifetime payments totaling $8.75 million. As his “daughter,” Hutchins in theory might have been able to access some of the trust fund, the assets of which were estimated to be in excess of $300 million.
Goodman was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He is currently free on bail as courts consider his appeal.