As blended families continue to become more common in the United States, step-parent adoptions are too. A blended family is one where one or both of the parents have children prior to the marriage. In a step-parent adoption, the spouse legally adopts the prior children. Families do not usually consider before a step-parent adoption what will happen to the children if the couple divorces and whether the step-parent will still be responsible for the adopted children.
The recent case of Schollmeyer v. Schollmeyer in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District illustrates the difficulty that can arise. The mother in the case had two children prior to the marriage. The couple had one child together and the father adopted the mother’s prior children. The marriage lasted less than five years. The adopted children wanted nothing to do with the father and he agreed that the mother should have sole custody of them. The couple was awarded joint custody of the child born during the marriage. The big issue in the case was child support. Mother asked the trial judge to order the father to pay child support for all three children. Instead, the court only made the father responsible for child support for the child born during the marriage.
The Court of Appeals ruling turned on a technicality. The trial judge could have originally ordered the father to pay child support for all three children, and then abated the amount to have the father pay a lesser sum due to the circumstances of the case. However, the trial judge merely entered a child support figure for the one child born during the marriage. The Court of Appeals reversed that, but they also used language that makes it clear that the trial judge is not free to absolve the father of all child support for the two adopted children. This is because once a child is adopted, the adoptive parent has full legal responsibility for the child. Of course, if the father had not adopted the children, he would not be required to pay any child support for them at all.
If you are considering step-parent adoption, it is important that you speak to an attorney. You need to know what your rights and responsibilities are during your marriage and what they are if you and your spouse get divorced. Step-parent adoption can be a wonderful thing, but both parents need to make sure that they make an informed decision about it before the adoption.