by Brette Sember
As if divorce isn't hard enough, it can be even more complicated when you are trying to work out custody of an adopted child. Adoption often makes the situation emotionally more difficult for the child, and may make you concerned about what your rights are.
If you and your spouse adopted your child together, or if one of you did a step-parent adoption, you may be wondering how the adoption impacts custody. Technically, it doesn't. If you are both legal parents, you both have equal rights in the eyes of the court.
If one of you is also a biological parent though, there's a good chance the court will take that fact into consideration when making a decision. It's unlikely a court would award custody to a step-dad who recently adopted the child over her bio mom, however it is possible because the decision is always made based on what is in the best interests of the child. If the bio mom is shown to be a poor parent, custody could certainly be given to the adoptive father.
If your child is one of the many adopted children who has dealt with attachment issues, you may find divorce to be a very difficult time for him. He may have spent years coming to grips with the adoption itself and the loss of his biological family. Now he has to deal with another loss.
Having his family split up can cause an adopted child to regress and re-experience the feelings of loss and grief that were related to the adoption. The upset of the divorce may cause him to act out in ways you have not seen in years. Keep in mind that ALL children of divorce deal with anger, loss, sadness, and confusion. Your child's reaction may be compounded by attachment issues, but his reaction is likely not outside normal boundaries.
Therapy is almost always a good idea for children who are going through a divorce, and this is even more the case for adopted children in a divorce. A good therapist can help your child work through his emotions and find coping strategies for the situations he experiences.
If you and your spouse can talk to your child together about the divorce, you will be able to set the tone for her. Tell her how much you both love her and explain that the divorce cannot change that. Talk about how you are going to work together and still be her parents. Yes, you will live in separate homes, but you will still always be a family. Make it very clear to her that the parent moving out is not deserting her or moving out of her life. Adopted children often carry a deep fear that their adoptive parents will one day give them up just as their biological parents did. Help her understand that that will never happen.
The best thing you can do for your child is to work together cooperatively as parenting partners. It does not matter if you are the bio mom and your spouse adopted her -- in your child's eyes you are both her parents and she needs you both. It can be hard as the bio mom to make room in your child's life after divorce for a man whom you see as having hurt you. You might think you and your child are just better off without him. However, when you agreed to the adoption, you made him your child's parent forever. Divorce does not change that. You asked your child to accept him as a parent. To try to change that for your child now would be very confusing and unfair.
You have to put aside your personal feelings for the other parent and find a way to work together so that your child can have two parents who are active, cooperative, and relatively pleasant to each other when it counts.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of: