Completing a step-parent adoption is a joyous occasion. Expanding a child’s family and sense of stability can only be beneficial as the child grows and matures. Although the optimal situation means that the family will remain together and stable indefinitely, that is not always the case. Divorce is an unfortunate reality for many families. Divorce means making many important adjustments, including in the areas of family budget, housing, and property division, just to name a few. When the divorcing parents share children, custody will clearly be a crucial issue. If an adoption took place during the marriage, the divorcing parties need to be aware of how the adoption will factor into the divorce.
First, a complete adoption means that the step-parent is now viewed by the law as no different from a biological parent. The adoptive parent has all of the same rights and responsibilities. This means that the adoptive parent can ask the court for visitation or even custody, and can also be ordered to pay child support. Just as with children the parties biologically share, the court will make a custody and visitation schedule based on what is in the child’s best interest. Minnesota law has a list of factors that the judge will consider when making a determination as to what is in the child’s best interest, and these factors do not include whether either parent has a biological connection with the child. While the adoption itself does not figure into the best interest determination, the length and quality of the relationship between the parent and the child will. The court will not be ignorant to the fact that the adoptive parent likely has a shorter relationship with the child than the biological parent. The biological parent has probably been the primary caretaker for the child, which is an important consideration in any best interest determination. That said, there is no automatic presumption from the court that the biological parent has been the primary caretaker. Just as with any other divorce or custody action, both the biological and the adoptive parent will need to present evidence to support their respective custody and parenting time proposals.