Divorce can be stressful for any family, but when adopted children are involved, it can add an extra layer of challenge with the potential to unearth deep rooted emotions. In some cases, the adopted children may have previously experienced significant trauma or loss in their lives, so embarking upon another major life change can be particularly daunting. In this article, we aim to delve into the unique dynamics of divorcing as an adoptive parent.

Parental responsibility and adoptive parents

When a child has been legally adopted, the adoptive parents have the same rights and responsibilities as biological parents, and acquire parental responsibility. Therefore, if you have to go to court during divorce proceedings, it handles adopted children in the same way as it would biological children. The best interests of the child will always take precedence in court proceedings, alongside consideration of the child’s age, needs, emotional health, and each parent’s capacity to provide a loving and stable home.

In all but a few rare instances, adoption is permanent. Once the adoption process has been finalised, family law makes no distinction between biological and adopted children.

Can we still adopt if we decide to divorce during the adoption process?

At any time during the adoption process, if a significant change happens within the family, this requires a re-evaluation of the parties circumstances. It is always best to be open and honest about your relationship and inform the social worker at the earliest opportunity. The stability and permanency of any relationship will be of paramount concern to ensure the child’s long-term wellbeing, so being untruthful will only serve to jeopardise the adoption.

Early communication with the adoption agency is crucial for several reasons:

  • The adoption agency’s primary concern is the welfare of the child. Informing them about your divorce ensures they can assess the situation and provide necessary support to ensure the child’s needs are met during this potentially turbulent period.
  • Part of the post-adoption support plan may include requirements to update the agency about significant changes in circumstances. Divorce is a substantial change that could impact the adopted child’s living arrangements and emotional well-being.
  • The adoption agency can offer guidance and resources to help the child and prospective parents through the divorce process. This may include counselling, mediation, and other support services tailored to maintain stability for the child.
  • The agency might need to review the child’s living arrangements to ensure that the best interests of the child are maintained. This may help to decide whether any changes to the post-adoption support plan or living arrangements are necessary.

Although divorce does not prohibit adoption, there is a possibility that you could be rejected. Most adopted children have gone through a significant upheaval in their lives, and the adoption agency may believe it will be harmful to the child if the adoption is allowed to continue. That said, if you have met the child and have formed a bond, the harm caused by stopping the process must also be taken into account.

It is important to remember that single people can adopt, as this is no longer a bar to adoption. However, if you have been assessed as a couple, then it is likely you will need to undergo reassessment as a single person.

What if we get divorced shortly after finalising the adoption? Can it be reversed?

Adopting a child is a legally binding decision with significant changes for both the child and the adoptive parents. If a couple who have recently adopted a child decide to separate, several risks and considerations may become apparent.

The stability and welfare of the adopted child are paramount. The court’s primary concern is the child’s best interests, which includes ensuring a stable and loving environment. A recent separation may prompt a review of the child’s living arrangements to ensure these interests are met.

Legally, as discussed above, both adoptive parents share parental responsibility, regardless of their marital or relationship status. This means both parents remain responsible for the child’s upbringing, even after separation. However, practical challenges may arise, such as disagreements over living arrangements, and when the child will see the other parent. If these disputes cannot be amicably resolved, they may require court intervention.

For children who have already been the subject of lengthy care and adoption proceedings, further court involvement is likely to be viewed by any adoption agency as extremely disruptive and traumatic. Here, the potential emotional and psychological impact on the child can be huge. Recent adoption means the child may still be adjusting to the new family environment, and a separation could exacerbate feelings of instability and insecurity.

If there are concerns about one parent’s ability to provide a safe and supportive environment, social services may become involved to assess the situation and ensure the child’s welfare is protected. In extreme cases, this could lead to the revocation of the adoption order, although this is rare and considered a last resort.

Do I have to pay child maintenance for my adopted child?

Because adopted children are placed on the same legal footing as biological children, a non-resident parent must pay child maintenance in line with their income and Child Maintenance Service (CMS) criteria. That said, this does not necessarily have to be arranged via the CMS making an assessment, since some parents prefer to agree a figure in a private agreement based on the CMS calculation. A child is classed as anyone under 16 or someone between 16 and 20 who is not married or in a civil partnership and is in full-time education. So a divorced parent should expect to maintain their child until either of these things happens.

By ensuring that the child’s best interests remain at the forefront and making the most of the resources and guidance available, adoptive parents can help mitigate the potential negative effects of divorce. Ultimately, the focus should remain on providing a stable, loving, and supportive environment for the adopted child, despite changes in the family structure.

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