If you are going through a divorce with your spouse as a stepparent, you might be nervous about what will happen custody-wise with your stepchild. Depending on your involvement and attachment to them, sustaining a relationship with your stepchild can be difficult if you are not biologically related. However, there are some avenues to pursue if you find yourself worrying over the future.
Divorce during adoption, and how it might affect adoption in general;
Your options as a stepparent before and after divorce; and
Deciding what is best for your child—from you to the courts.
How Divorce Affects Adoption
Adoption changes a parent’s responsibilities drastically. When considering adoption, it is important to consider where you are in life and what could potentially throw a wrench in your plans.
Depending on the process you choose, a divorce could potentially impair your chances of adoption. Consent is a key aspect of adoption put in the hands of the child's biological parents. Transparency is just as important when making clear the highs and lows of your life.
If a couple does not signal their intent to divorce during the adoption, the birth parent may claim the adoptive parents misrepresented their intent—to raise the child in a two-parent household. Were it brought to a court; they could find the adoption null and void and give parental rights back to the birth parents.
Now: let us say you have already adopted a child and now find yourself going through a divorce. The rules are very similar to a typical custody case; adoptive parents with parental rights can mediate an agreement or let the court decide what reflects the best interest of the child.
There are some special considerations, though. For one, the state entitles adopted children to subsidies based on certain needs. If you are living in different homes during divorce, you will want to notify the proper authorities where to send monthly subsidy payments—this can affect the court’s decision on alimony, as well.
Be aware of your situation and keep the child’s best interests at heart during a divorce, adoption, or both. Building off this, let us now look at…
Your Options as a Stepparent—Through Adoption and Divorce
In most states, adopting as a stepparent is faster and easier than other processes. It is most commonly pursued independently with less exhaustive screening procedures. That is, if you are already living with your stepchild, chances are the courts or biological parent waives most of the typical trials a non-family member undergoes in favor of expediency.
Likewise, as is the case normally, adoption allows the stepparent to assume all rights and responsibilities of a biological parent in the event another parent is absent in the child’s life. This becomes a viable option for stepparents for a few reasons:
You develop an emotional bond with your stepchildren;
You want to make important life decisions on behalf of the child without the legal permission of your spouse;
In case of an emergency, you want to have the ability to provide any necessary care; and, of course,
In a divorce, you have no legal ties to the child; in the case of arguing for custody, you are far more vulnerable to these claims than any others.
As a stepparent, you have more options at your disposal before divorce than after. Remember: Maryland requires consent from both biological parents for an adoption’s approval. Though it is difficult to foresee a divorce, adoption may be easier if you can talk it through with your spouse.
If you pursue a more amicable divorce route—through mediation, for example—there might be room for discussing custody should your spouse consent. However, keep in mind the above list regarding the limitations of not having parental rights and what that could mean for the child’s future.
Another option is through obtaining the consent of one parent and not the other. This happens in regular adoptions, too, but you as a stepparent might find it more preferable.
In assuming parental rights, an adoptive parent assumes child support duties should a divorce occur. An absent parent might consider relinquishing responsibilities to stop paying support.
On the other hand, consent from the biological parent is not necessary if the court already terminated their parental rights.
To summarize: you have more options pre-divorce than you do post. Contact a lawyer about your options as a stepparent if you are trying to adopt in more extenuating circumstances.
Whether you are a parent, stepparent, or guardian, deciding what is best for a child must be a priority of your divorce. Think about…
A Child’s Future and the Effects of Divorce and Adoption.
It is important to mention, with regards to consent, that Maryland law requires children over the age of 10 years old to also consent to an adoption. This consent does not supersede the other biological parents, though.
If you developed an emotional bond with your spouse’s child as a stepparent, be especially supportive during these more difficult times. Adoption can be a wonderful and exciting period in someone's life, but it can also create new anxieties should certain issues arrive (in the instance an absent parent does not consent or it goes to court).
On the other hand, a divorce can be a demoralizing time for a child—especially one who has already experienced parental separation in their lives. Divorce can signal a period of “moving on” in your life, but to a child, it can be an uncertain time of theirs. If you still do not have a legal connection to them, it might mean they will not see you as often; do what you can to help alleviate their stress and set yourself up for the best future possible.
It is ultimately up to the child and biological parents to approve an adoption. However, never hesitate to speak with an attorney about your concerns with both the adoption and divorce processes.