An Adoptive Parents Guide to Oregon Divorce Law

Parents who have adopted children and are considering divorce are likely to have many questions. While the possibility of divorce may have been considered during the adoption process, most families do not consider it to be a reality at that time and therefore do not grasp the legal principles involved. At Gearing, Rackner & McGrath, LLP, we help adoptive parents through this difficult time by providing them with effective advocacy and unwavering support through each step of the process.

When a child is adopted by a family, the parental rights of the child’s birth parents are terminated and the adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents. If a couple adopts one or more children and then later decides to divorce, the custody, parenting time and child support aspects of the divorce proceeding will be identical to those of a divorce involving naturally born children. In other words, there is no legal difference in an Oregon divorce that involves adopted children.

An Adoptive Parents Guide to Oregon Divorce Law

Child Custody and Child Support for Adopted Children

Families who adopt a child in Oregon are legally responsible for that child’s care. Thus, when an adoptive couple separates, the court will determine child custody and child support matters. In Oregon, there are conceptually two types of child custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to the residential schedule for the child (technically referred to as “parenting time”) while legal custody refers to primary control over major life decisions for the child. Legal custody can be either joint or sole. Oregon courts more often order sole legal custody because a court can only order joint custody of an adopted child if both parents agree to such an arrangement.

If an adoptive parent has sole legal custody, the child will often reside primarily with that parent. However, it is fairly common for parents to have equal parenting time even if one parent has sole custody. In addition, the parent with sole legal custody will usually be able to make all the major life decisions that parents commonly make for their children, such as those related to a child’s:

  • Education,
  • Religious training, and
  • Health care.

The non-custodial parent is still entitled to be kept up to date with how the child is doing, including the right to confer with teachers and doctors. It is also typical for the custodial parent to be ordered to advise the non-custodial parent of any substantial changes in the child’s life.

A parenting plan is a legally binding document that outlines how much time each parent spends with a child. In their most basic form, a parenting plan covers which days of the week a child will spend with each parent. However, detailed Oregon parenting plans for adopted children may include numerous additional terms, including:

  • Schedules for holidays and school in-service days;
  • Different schedules for summer vacation or Spring Break;
  • Detailed terms regarding each parents’ decision-making role;
  • Restrictions on a parent’s ability to move;
  • How the parties will address any future disputes or disagreements; and
  • How the parties will communicate and arrange pick-ups/drop-offs.

Parenting plans are essential in a divorce involving an adopted child, not only because they dictate a parent’s ability to see their child, but also because they may impact the court’s child-support determination.

Oregon courts routinely order child support in divorces involving adopted children that are under 18 years old or between 18 and 21 if the child is attending college or a trade school. Child support refers to money paid by one parent to the other for the care, support, education and welfare of the couple’s adopted child or children. If a child between the ages of 18 and 21 qualifies for child support as a “child attending school,” payments are usually made directly to the child (sometimes by both parents).

Judges use a predetermined formula when calculating Oregon child support. The formula considers:

  • Each parents’ income;
  • Work-related child care costs;
  • Medical insurance costs for the parents and children;
  • Ongoing medical costs not covered by insurance; and
  • The amount of time the children spend with each parent.

Once a court makes a decision regarding child custody or child support, that decision is final. However, either parent can request that a judge modify a child support order if there has been a material change in circumstances. While any material change in either parents’ circumstances can be the basis for a modification order, common reasons for a modification order include:

  • The needs of the adopted child have changed;
  • The physical custody or parenting time arrangement between the parties has changed;
  • The number of children either party is responsible for has increased or decreased; and
  • Either parent’s income has significantly increased or decreased.

Legally speaking, Oregon divorces involving adopted children are no different than divorces involving biological children. However, adopted children often face additional issues related to the divorce that must be considered by both parents.

Important Considerations for Adoptive Parents Anticipating a Divorce

Divorce is never easy on a child. However, many adopted children have already been through a lot in their life. If a child is adopted by a family that later decides to divorce, this can naturally raise many issues for the adopted child. This is especially the case for children who are adopted at older ages.

Children who are adopted as infants may be expected to react as a biological child would when their parents are going through a divorce. That is to say they may experience grief, loss, fear, guilt and possibly an alignment with one parent over the other. These are normal emotions that tend to surface during a divorce, and parents can help reduce any trauma on adopted children by ensuring the child receives any necessary help from mental health professionals. Therapy or counseling can help even young children in their coping and communication mechanisms.

Children who are adopted at an older age may have memories of their lives before meeting their adoptive parents. This may include memories of being in foster care, frequently moving between relatives’ houses, feeling abandoned by loves ones, and possibly even homelessness or abused. Understandably, when an adopted child’s parents get divorced, the process may stir up these memories – and the related emotions. Thus, it is not uncommon for adopted children whose parents are going through a divorce to experience heightened fears of abandonment, loss and instability. These emotions can manifest themselves in a variety of ways including:

  • Fear of being returned to the foster system;
  • Feelings of extreme guilt;
  • An attachment issue related to one or both parents;
  • An exacerbation of the feeling that they are “different”; and
  • A decreased sense of self.

Adoptive parents who are going through a divorce can take certain steps to reduce the negative impact of the divorce on their adopted children, including:

  • An agreement to co-parent (i.e. communicate often and possibly share in parental decision-making);
  • Discussing the marital issues outside the presence of the adopted children;
  • An agreement that the child’s emotional needs are more important than those of either spouse;
  • Giving the child time to acclimate to the concept of divorce before separation occurs;
  • Maintaining consistent communication with the adopted children in both households; and
  • Listening and arranging for professional assistance when necessary.

Divorce can be especially difficult for children who have been through the adoption process. Parents should be cognizant of this and take the appropriate measures to ensure that the divorce process impacts adopted children as little as possible.

Schedule a Meeting With an Experienced Portland Divorce and Adoption Attorney

If you are an Oregon adoptive parent considering divorce or have reason to believe that your spouse is pursuing a divorce, contact the dedicated divorce lawyers at Gearing Rackner & McGrath, LLP. Our dedicated team of family law attorneys understand how divorce can impact a family’s adopted children and take every precaution to minimize the adverse effects on all children while also protecting our client’s rights. We can help to ensure that you and your children are taken care of in the future. To learn more, and to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation with one of our divorce lawyers, call 503-222-9116. We represent clients throughout Oregon and in Southwest Washington, with convenient offices in Portland and Astoria.