When parents who have adopted children face divorce, custody and visitation issues may seem unclear. Divorce is tough, but it can be even more complicated for everyone involved when spouses try to work out custody of an adopted child. Adoption often makes the situation emotionally more difficult for the child, and parents may become concerned about their legal rights, says Brette Sember, a divorce expert.
If the divorcing parents adopted the child together, or if a stepparent adopted his partner’s child, adoption has no impact on custody. In the first case, both parents are the legal parents; both have equal rights in the eyes of the court. However, if one is also a biological parent, the court probably will take that fact into consideration when making a decision. A court probably will not award custody to a stepdad who recently adopted the child, over her natural mom. However, it is possible because the courts base custody on the best interests of the child. If the natural mom is shown to be a poor parent, custody could certainly be awarded to the adoptive father.
Divorce can be very difficult for an adopted child, who has grown up in an adopted family. The child may have spent years coming to grips with the adoption itself — the loss of his biological family. Now he or she has to deal with another loss. The split up can cause an adopted child to regress and re-experience the feelings of loss and grief related to the adoption. The upset of the divorce may cause him or her to act out in ways unseen since childhood.
All children of divorce deal with anger, loss, sadness, and confusion, but for the adopted child divorce may be a one-two punch. In general, therapy is almost always a good idea for children who are going through a divorce, and even more so for adopted children in a divorce. A good therapist can help a child work through his or her emotions and find coping strategies for the situations he or she experiences.
If the spouses can talk to their child together about the divorce, they can set the tone for him or her. The adopted child needs reassurance of love and a reiteration that the divorce cannot change that. He or she needs to be told that even though his or her parents are divorcing they are still the parents.
Adopted children often carry a deep fear that their adoptive parents will one day give them up just as their biological parents did.
The best thing parents can do is to work together cooperatively as parenting partners. It does not matter whether the woman is the biological mother and the father is the stepparent. In the child’s eyes both are his or her parents.
A spouse must put aside anger toward the other parent and find a way to work together so that the child has two parents who are active and cooperative and civil to each other when it counts.