Adoption and Divorce: A Family Lawyer’s Perspective on Brad and Angelina’s Split
– Family law reaches into some of the most private matters that a family has to deal with. One of the toughest involves divorce and children. And once the tabloid TV shows move on and gossip columns cool down that’s what is going to make the split between Brad Pitt and Angelina the toughest. Not the fame. Not the rumors. But the fate of the children that will be most impacted by this highly public split.
– The couple has six children – three of them are adopted and three of them are biological. Will the legal implications of divorce be any different for the adopted children? In most cases, the answer is no. However, there are some exceptions.
Legal Rights and Responsibilities of Adoptive Parents
– Once an adoption is finalized, adoptive parents take on many of the rights and obligations that they have with a biological child. They must care for and provide for the child. They have the right to make important decisions about the child’s health, education, religion, and other aspects of their life.
– In a divorce, child custody issues can differ depending upon the circumstances of the adoption. If, like the Pitt/Jolie marriage, both parents adopted the children, child custody issues are the same as if the children were born to the couple. On the other hand, if a child is the biological child of one parent and adopted by their partner, custody issues get more complicated. In deciding about custody, the court may take into consideration the biological link and how long the step-parent has been a legal parent to the child.
Legal Rights and Responsibilities after Divorce
Divorce doesn’t change the rights and obligations each parent has to a child – whether they are adopted or biological. In some states, there is a distinction between legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody gives a parent the ability to make decisions regarding the child. Physical custody relates to where the child lives. In many cases, both parents retain full legal custody, with physical custody awarded to the parent with whom the child will live. In some cases, physical custody is split between the parents- the child lives with each of the parents part of the time. These rules apply equally to biological and adoptive parents.
– Child custody determinations can be made in a number of ways and usually have little to do with whether a child is adopted or biological. I’ve seen parents agree to these arrangements amicably as part of the divorce settlement. I’ve also seen them disagree. Then, the matter is settled through mediation or, in the worst case scenario, at a trial. That means a judge will determine who should have primary custody based on the best interests of the child. The court’s standards on such things as custody, child support and parenting will most likely be the same for cases involving children born of the marriage or those adopted into it.
– No matter what the legal situation is, I urge parents of all children to put aside the complex emotions of a divorce in favor of doing what’s best for the child. Those emotions can be even more complicated for parents who have gone through all the trials and tribulation of adopting a child. In addition, parents of adopted children may worry that a divorce will stir up feeling of abandonment or rejection in their child. I like the advice from adoption social workers Ann Clearly, with Holt International, and Judy Goldman, with Vista Del Mar, in their article “7 Things Divorcing Adoptive Parents Must Do”
1. Embrace the role of co-parenting. This will be a new role for both of you and it means working together as what they call “partners in parenting.”
2. Commit to putting the child’s emotional needs above all else for at least one year. What they are advocating here is that you give the child’s emotional needs priority over your own- don’t make big changes to your life for 12 months.
3. Avoid talking to your child about how bad your ex is. “Your child is not your confidant. Your ex-spouse is now your new co-parent, and co-parents don’t put down their partner,” they advise.
4. Make the transitions between parents predictable. Your child may be living in two houses. That’s stressful. They advise: “…routines and information reduce stress. Let the child know in advance who will be in the house, what’s for dinner, and the next day’s schedule.”
5.Go out of your way to make sure your child knows he or she didn’t cause the divorce. This is particularly important for adopted children who may believe that something they did caused their birth mother to not want “to keep them.” The divorce may feed into this worry.
6. Show your child that you can be happy. “Start to enjoy life again. Have fun. Be a role model that happiness can be had even in unhappy times,” these adoption social workers advise.
7. Start making new family memories. I am particularly in favor of this message from the social workers for your children and for yourself: “You are still a family and you will be forever, even if living in two different houses.”
Clearly, the divorced lives of celebrities like Brad and Angelina will never come close to ours. But in this divorce, as in all others involving children, their decisions should be made in favor of the best interests of their children. All of their children. Just like the rest of us.