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Nguyen v. Boynes

Supreme Court of Nevada

June 22, 2017

KEN NGUYEN, Appellant,
v.
ROBERT BOYNES, Respondent.

         Appeal from a district court order establishing paternity and child custody. Eighth Judicial District Court, Family Court Division, Clark County; Bill Henderson, Judge.

          McFarling Law Group and Emily M. McFarling, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

          Pecos Law Group and Bruce I. Shapiro and Jack W. Fleeman, Henderson, for Respondent.

         BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.

          OPINION

          PARRAGUIRRE, J.

         In this case, we consider whether the district court erred in granting respondent Robert Boynes (Rob) paternity over a child adopted by appellant Ken Nguyen. We hold that the district court did not err in granting Rob paternity under the equitable adoption doctrine. In addition, we consider whether the district court's order violated the United States and Nevada Constitutions' equal protection clauses and conclude that it does not. Lastly, we hold that there is substantial evidence to support the district court's order granting Rob joint legal and physical custody. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's order granting Rob paternity and joint legal and physical custody over the child.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ken and Rob dated from November 2009 to May 2013. At some point during the relationship, a decision was made to adopt a child. In 2012, the parties sought adoption services from Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada (Catholic Charities). At the time, Catholic Charities disallowed joint adoptions for same-sex couples, and as such, Rob testified that Ken would adopt the child first and Rob would later also adopt the child.

         In July 2012, Rob and Ken attended an orientation at Catholic Charities, and Rob used his personal email address to sign up for an adoption account with Catholic Charities. Both parties participated in every step of the adoption process, including the background check, post-placement visits, and adoption classes. Ken paid for the adoption fees. In February 2013, Catholic Charities notified Ken that it was placing a child with him for adoption. Both parties were present to receive the newborn child.

         In March 2013, Ken's coworkers threw him a baby shower, which was held at Rob's house. Most of the congratulatory cards from the guests were addressed to both Rob and Ken. Two months later, the child was baptized at the Desert Spring United Methodist Church. Pastor David Devereaux performed the baptism with both parties present. The baptism certificate lists both parties as the fathers of the child.

          In May 2013, the parties ended their relationship. Around this time, Rob asked Ken to add his name to the child's birth certificate, and Ken refused. In October 2013, Ken formally adopted the child. Both parties sat at the plaintiffs table during the adoption hearing, and Ken reiterated once again that he would not place Rob's name on the child's birth certificate, nor would he allow a second-parent adoption.

         Since the child's first day of placement with Ken, he has primarily been under Rob's care. The child stayed overnight at Rob's house during the first night of placement and continued to do so for more than a month. Thereafter, the child would stay with Rob during the weekdays and with Ken during the weekends. After two months of placement, Ken decided to hire a neighbor to act as a full-time babysitter for the child. The neighbor took care of the child for two to four weeks before the parties returned to their previous arrangement for the child, which continued until May 2014, when Ken enrolled the child in daycare. Rob primarily took the child for doctor visits and provided most of the baby supplies. Additionally, in November 2013, Rob took the child to North Carolina to visit Rob's sister during Thanksgiving.

         In May 2014, Rob filed a petition for paternity and custody. The district court issued an order holding, inter alia, that (1) Rob was entitled to a presumption of paternity under NRS 126.051(1)(d), and (2) Rob and Ken were to have joint legal and physical custody of the child. Ken now appeals the district court's order.

         DISCUSSION

         On appeal, Ken argues, inter alia, that (1) the district court erred in granting Rob paternity under the equitable adoption doctrine, (2) the district court's order violated the United States and Nevada Constitutions' equal protection clauses, and (3) the district court erred in granting Rob joint legal and physical custody.

         The district court did not err in granting Rob paternity

         The district court applied the doctrine of equitable adoption and held that Rob is the adoptive father of the child. Ken argues that the district court erred in applying the doctrine to the present matter because this court has limited the application of the doctrine to child support disputes, and that even if the doctrine does apply in this context, there was no clear intent for Rob to adopt the child to support an equitable adoption. We disagree.

         The doctrine of equitable adoption applies in this case

         A district court's application of the equitable adoption doctrine is a question of law that we review de novo. See Rennets v. Rennets,127 Nev. 564, 569, 257 P.3d 396, 399 (2011) ("[W]e will review a purely legal ...


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