Filing for divorce is never an easy decision, especially when there are children in the family. For families with adopted children, there can be additional legal questions related to visitation and child custody. While there are guidelines followed by most courts, each family is unique, and the court will always examine factors considering the best interests of the adopted child. If one parent is found to be incompetent, courts will not award custody or visitation to that parent.

For couples who adopted a child together, and with both parents having legal custody, having an adopted child versus a biological child together will not make a difference in the parents’ legal rights. Both parents will have equal rights with respect to custody and visitation. By becoming the child’s legal parents in the first place, the couple agreed to fulfill certain obligations with respect to the care of the child. Legal parents also have the right to make medical, educational, and religious decisions for the child. This does not change when there is a divorce.

Step-Parent Adoption

If one spouse adopted the other’s biological child as a step-parent, courts often take that into consideration when determining legal custody and visitation rights. Courts usually examine the circumstances surrounding the step-parent adoption.  If the adoption took place recently, courts are often hesitant in awarding custody to a step-parent, unlike when a step-parent has raised their child as their own for an extended length of time.

In cases of a step-parent adoption, it can be difficult for the biological parent to understand the bond the child has developed with their step-parent. By allowing the adoption to take place, the biological parent has created the opportunity for a permanent relationship to develop, which should be respected and allowed to flourish.

Emotional Stress

Adoptive children experience increased stress and anxiety during the separation of their adopted parents. While it is common for any child to act out in unexpected ways during the divorce process due to anger, sadness, fear, or confusion, this can be especially true in the case of adopted children. Working with a licensed child therapist can help the family navigate many of these issues.

Some adopted children have attachment issues that may need to be addressed during this time. For children who have suffered the loss of their biological parents, the fear of losing an adoptive parent is very real. Both parents should take steps to reassure their adopted children that the end of the marriage does not mean the end of the parent relationship. By communicating together as a unified front, adopted parents can alleviate some of the common fears children may have with respect to visitation and custody issues.