Divorce After Adoption: Practical Tips for Parents

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Author's Note: This article should be not construed as advice because every family and situation is unique. There are few absolutes in parenting and many different opinions. The purpose of this article is to offer information and resources. Names of individuals and families described were changed to protect privacy.

Elena's parents divorced after a violent marriage when she was only 5. Parental rights were terminated on both because of alcoholism. After spending time in several shelters and foster homes, she was adopted at age 7. She thrived in her new family as an only child, but when she was 12, her adoptive parents divorced. Years of arguing about career goals, money and debt had taken their toll. For Elena, the divorce was another loss in her life. When her dad moved out, she ran out of fingers counting the number of parental figures who had once been part of her daily life.

Fortunately for Elena, her parents were acutely aware that this divorce was potentially devastating to their daughter. They went to divorce counseling when marriage counseling failed, to learn how to parent apart. They made every effort to reassure their daughter of their ongoing commitment and to explain that the split had nothing to do with her. After her father moved out, he called Elena almost every night to "tuck her in" with a new 'knock-knock' joke. They shared photos via email. He visited as often as he could because Elena's mother remained flexible about the visitation schedule.

Now 16, Elena is a confident teen-ager secure in the love of two parents. Because of her father's recent remarriage, she now has a step-mother and two step-brothers, ages 3 and 5. Elena is one of the fortunate ones because her parents put her first in the divorce. Many children are amazingly resilient. They can survive traumas and then go on to thrive if they have enough support.

Adopted children have, by definition, suffered previous loss. There should be special attention paid to meeting their emotional needs during this time. A little extra sensitivity goes a long way. Divorce is one of the most stressful events that human beings can go through, but it is not divorce per se that destroys kids' lives. It is divorce that is poorly planned and carried out and that moves the needs of children out of view. It is how a divorce unfolds that determines how much pain it will inflict on all family members.

When it comes to divorce, parents are likely to hear platitudes or advice that does not pertain to their situation, but when you're going through this complex process, you have to continue parenting. You need practical step-by-step suggestions and reminders.

This article is written in a simple-to-follow "To Do List" format that takes the reader from the first week to the third year. It begins by shedding light on a few myths surrounding divorce after adoption. It is designed to give parents a starting point for planning and executing the dissolution of a marriage.

Online Support
Happily, there are wonderful online support groups for the newly divorced. After reading this article, a visit to some of these sites should prove productive.
  • Divorce Source: Details about alimony, child custody, and child-support, with a state-by-state breakdown of resources.
  • Divorce Support Page: Resource center providing legal advice and information on support groups, child custody, books, and religion.
More of this feature
Page 1: Introduction & Online Support
Page 2: Adoption & Divorce: Facts & Fantasy
Page 3: More Myths About Divorce
Page 4: Preparing to Divorce
Page 5: To-Do List: First Week
Page 6: To-Do List: First 6 Months
Page 7: To-Do List: First 2 Years

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Visitor Comments (1)
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Davey Hiltz - 12 months ago
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I was adopted into my family and I was raised knowing that. It was good my parents were understanding and helped me through my struggles. I now have 3 adopted children and we're such a happy family ourselves. #1
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