Authored by Alison Gilmour
“I think adoption is a deeply emotional connection,” says Terry Goertzen. His own “slightly unusual adoption story,” as he calls it, goes back to when he was 21 and planning to marry. As he marked this important milestone, he also went through a legal process to be formally adopted, as an adult, by Anne Loewen, the woman who had raised him since he was eight.
Terry came into care in 1972, when his birth mother left the family. Anne was the social worker assigned to his case, and after her first encounter with Terry, she went back to her office at the Children’s Aid Society and told her colleagues, “I just met this little boy, and one day I will take him home.”
“Some years later I became her foster child,” Terry relates. “Then in 1985, when I was about to get married, I thought I would like to recognize the woman who had been my mother since I was eight years old, as my social worker and foster mother and then adoptive parent.
“The law was in the process of being changed, and we were one of the first adult adoptions in Manitoba to go through under the new law,” Terry explains. To help them navigate this procedure, he and his mother turned to Taylor McCaffrey Family Law practitioner Patricia Lane, Q.C., who was Anne’s lawyer and has been Terry’s lawyer ever since.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month in Canada, which affirms the importance of adoption and the rights of children to live in loving families. For Taylor McCaffrey lawyer Robynne Kazina, who was named one of the 25 most influential lawyers in Canada by Canadian Lawyer Magazine in 2021, reinforcing these profound emotional bonds with the protection of the law is one of the best parts of her job. “My work sees and supports families that are formed in various ways and helps them get recognized legally,” she says.
With extensive experience in all areas of Family Law, as well as a graduate degree in social work, Robynne finds it particularly satisfying to help families through the adoption process because it works in the best interests of the child. “There are all different forms and permutations of families, and children have the right to have the structure and the reality of their lives recognized,” she states. “The law can be really helpful in legally recognizing the way families are functioning day to day.”
Most people are aware of the private adoption process, Robynne suggests, in which someone is adopting a baby from birth. But there are other forms of adoption as well. “There is de facto adoption, where you adopt a child you’ve been taking care of as a guardian for more than two years. There is extended family adoption, adult adoption and stepparent adoption.
“Those are the ways adoption happens in Manitoba,” she explains. “They’re all different, and they all have different requirements and conditions. The steps are different in each one.” That’s why it’s important for families to have legal experience and expertise they can rely on.
While the adoption process is rooted in emotional connections, it also involves practical legal issues.
Stepparent adoptions are important in the case of unforeseen events, such as the death of the biological parent or the breakdown of the marriage. If there has been no legal adoption, the stepparent will have no legal rights over a child, even if he or she has been packing lunches, reading bedtime stories and driving carpool for years. “It’s making sure that a person who in reality has been acting as a parent for many years, who has had input into decisions for the child, has the same legal entitlements as the other parent,” Robynne says.
Adult adoption can be important “for citizenship purposes, for wills and estates and inheritance rights, for familial relationships,” Robynne points out. A parent might recognize a child as their own, for example, but if that connection has not been legally formalized and the parent dies without a will, the child will have no rights.
Ultimately, adoption is a way of legally affirming what people already feel in their hearts. “This is the most important work I do,” says Robynne.
“The really valuable thing about adoption is that the effect of an adoption order makes it as if those were your parents from birth,” she points out. “So even if you are adopted as an adult, your birth certificate will be changed, and it will reflect that those people who raised you were your parents from the moment of your birth.
“It recognizes the reality of your life, that the people who loved and cared for you are your parents,” Robynne emphasizes. “It’s a pretty powerful and meaningful thing that an adoption order is doing, which is to recognize someone as a parent from the moment of a child’s birth.”
Terry and Anne’s experience confirms this. As a young man about to be married and form a new family, he also wanted to recognize the family that had formed him. “I felt like it was time to honour that connection,” he recalls. “I wanted to honour my mother and the role she’s played all my life by formally recognizing her as my mother.
“I come from a lot of adoption,” Terry goes on. His birth mother was adopted, his half-brother was adopted by his father, he was adopted by Anne, and he’s the father to two stepchildren. He and his wife, Heather―it’s a second marriage for both―now have a blended family. “One Mother’s Day, the kids bought her a plaque that hangs in the kitchen, and it really captures our story.” The plaque defines family as those who are “not bound just by ties at birth, but by our journeys on this earth.”
As Terry says, “My mom, first as my social worker and then as my foster mother, has always journeyed with me.” Their adoption story affirms that journey.
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