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When Parents of Adopted Children Divorce

Divorce is never easy, but the situation becomes more difficult when there are children to consider. For those parents who have adopted children, divorce can bring unique challenges. Here, the Attorneys at Protokowicz & Rodier discuss how to help your child cope with the changes that divorce brings.

Understanding How An Adopted Child Experiences Divorce

While, legally speaking, co-parenting an adopted child is very similar to co-parenting a biological child, emotionally, there are many challenges related to self-esteem or identity which need your attention. It is helpful for parents to understand what these issues are and where they might stem from in order to help the child deal with them in a healthy way.

According to the work of Silverstein and Kaplan at the American Adoption Congress, there are seven core issues that adopted children typically face during the adoption/resettlement process: Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy and Mastery/Control. Divorce typically brings these emotions to the surface in a new, even stronger, way. Here are some examples of how an adopted child might view divorce through a different lens.

  1. If the child can remember their adoption/foster care process, they might already be holding on to feelings of loss or rejection from their birth parents or previous foster parents. The safety and security that the adopting parents have created in their home could, to the child, feel at risk causing the child to begin to feel rejected or abandoned.
  2. A stable home is, in the eyes of many children who were/are in the foster care system, hard to find. When an adopted child finds their forever home, the separation of their adopted parents creates frustration and confusion as their idea of a family unit is again uprooted.
  3. As with most children who experience divorce, adopted children may feel that they need to grow up more quickly to support both parents during a divorce. For older adopted children, who have already had to act in a caretaker capacity for themselves, siblings or other children in foster care, this process can be even more tumultuous. These situations can leave children feeling angry or resentful that they never got to have a typical childhood experience.
  4. Many adopted children suffer from severe attachment issues. During a divorce, this sensation is heightened as children begin to feel guilt or anxiety for spending more time with one parent over the other.

While a biological child might face a variety of these issues, an adopted child’s experience will undoubtedly be more traumatic when combined with the difficult experiences they endured earlier in their life.

Before discussing divorce with your child, create a custody arrangement with your spouse. This should cover visitation, medical decisions, plans for dispute resolution and methods of amending the agreement. Your lawyer can help you walk through this document to ensure that all necessary elements are included. The sooner this is created, the more quickly you can begin to slowly integrate your child into their new schedule.

During the divorce, it is vital for both parents to emphasize that, no matter what happens, they will both be there to answer questions, talk about this new future and support the child. Divorce will always be challenging for adopted children, but by encouraging them deal with these emotions in a healthy way, you can help ease the emotional burden. It is vital that the adopted child understand that while the parents might be divorcing, the child will still have a forever home with their adopted mother and father.

For help creating a child custody arrangement, or for additional information about divorcing when you have an adopted child, please contact the attorneys at Protokowicz & Rodier.