' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: What's wrong with stepfather adoption?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What's wrong with stepfather adoption?

Thousands of fathers will not be celebrating Father's Day...either with all their children or expecting a phone call. These men let their children's step-fathers adopt their kids and now live with "what if" so familiar to those who lose their children to adoption. Consider this anecdote of a man we encountered recently: 

Three generations are sitting at the end of a table. A man in his forties, his grandmother, and his father. Son and father are the spitting image of each other--and both look like Grandma. The subject of legal costs came up. The son says that at his company, he paid six dollars a month for a legal insurance policy that would cover simple legal matters, and so he asked if that would cover the cost of "fixing" his birth certificate since his it did not have his father's name on it--but the name of the man who was married briefly to his mother and "adopted" him. "In future generations they will be able to trace the family, but they they'll come to me and take a left turn," he said, matter-of-factly but obviously frustrated.

Ears perked up. Why wasn't his father's name on his birth certificate? Because his father, following a divorce, had agreed decades earlier to let his son be adopted by his stepfather. The man went on to say that to get his real dad's name back on his birth certificate--and "dad" is now totally involved in his son's and new granddaughter's life--his father had to go through the long process of "adopting" his son. He mentioned that simply filing an affidavit attesting to the reality of the situation as not enough. He added that there was even talk of a home study--the whole works--to see if his biological father was a "fit" parent. The man with the other man's name on his birth certificate said he gave up at that point.

What about his adoptive father? FMF asked. He shrugged. His was gone from his life when his mother divorced. Wouldn't a DNA test--given that the father is in his 60s, the son in his 40s, all parties agreed this is what they wanted the legal record to show--might somehow be enough to "prove" paternity. Nobody knows.

Stepparent adoptions: It is estimated that they are roughly twice the number of infant adoptions. Stepparent adoptions trail adoptions from foster care, though no exact national numbers are available. *

Stepparent adoptions, usually stepfather adoptions, are often loving and generous acts of goodwill. The natural father has left the home, the mother has re-married, and the natural father may have little contact with the children--and he does not pay support or show up when he is scheduled to take the kids for an outing. A stepfather who is involved in their lives with the legal ties of adoption is frequently better than such an absent father. Beyond the emotional support it implies, adoption offers a legal promise of financial support, may be necessary for insurance coverage, and strengthens inheritance rights.

Their motivations vary, but most are relieved to not have to make those monthly payments, to her, that despised ex-wife. They are free to go as they please. They can shed that nagging, guilty feeling that they should call or visit. Fathers may feel they are doing their child a favor by not interfering in his or her life. The stepfather is someone who likes domestic life and dotes on the child. If the father is truly gone, and a child is the only one in the home with a different name, the child may prefer to change his or her last name to "dad's."

Fathers don't think about--because no one points it out to them--how the child will feel about their father signing a paper and opting out of his responsibilities and legal connection to him or her. Not all men who seek to adopt their wives' children have good intentions. Sometimes it is just to keep the biological father away from his wife, a sort of primal, male territorial reaction. Sometimes it is because the new husband wants to control the child, "I'm your father now! Forget that other jerk." Some stepfathers later regret taking another man's child. "I only did it to please her," one man said. "And now I'm stuck with support. I hope she can find another sucker."

The children, like other adopted children, may fantasize about the father they do not know. They may stare at men they see in malls who look sort of like themselves, wondering if they should approach them. The children may hope their fathers show up some day and save them from whatever catastrophe they are going through. In cases when the children were old enough to remember their father, their sense of loss may be even greater. Before the adoption, they may not have seen their father often, but they stare out the window, hoping he will come and visit. Then one day, they get the devastating news: he signed away his legal paternity. He is unlikely to ever come. 

Fathers that we have known don't forget. They get on with their lives but there's always a tug at their hearts, a trickle of guilt. What feels like a freedom today may feel like a loss one day.  Like first mothers, these men often exchange immediate benefits for long-term pain.

A man married at 18 because his girl friend was pregnant. He left for another state soon after his son was born. Within a few years, both he and his ex had remarried. He resented having to make support payments for the son he did not know when he and his new family needed the money. He gladly signed the paper giving up his paternal rights to the boy's stepfather. His son was now in his forties. What had happened to him, his father wondered? Should he look for him? Would that hurt his wife and the children he had raised? Would the son even want to know him?  Probably not, the father concluded. Better for his son to think of him as non-existent. The father was unaware that his son might want to meet him, might want to learn his heritage, might want to know why his father signed away his legal rights and claim of paternity. 

Another father we know discovered he was gay after he married and had a son. After his former wife re-married, and he and his partner got together, he said he thought it would be better if I just cut out: "My son probably wouldn't want a gay father anyway--so I let his stepfather adopt him. And I hate to admit it, part of the reason was that Harry [his partner] and I had decided to open a bread and breakfast in London. We were short of cash and I was behind in the support payments." He looked down.

"When my son was in his 20's, he came to visit. He'd never gotten along with his adoptive father, and he asked if he could change his last name back to mine. I told him 'no,' it wouldn't be fair to the man who raised him. I didn't see much of my son after that." This father thought he was being noble, altruistic to insist his son keep his adoptive name. He didn't know the hurt his son must have felt.

Fathers like these men are invisible in the adoption community. They have never connected with or even heard of Concerned United Birthparents or American Adoption Congress, or any other adoption organization. They have no support groups. They're decades behind in their understanding of adoption. For the most part, they assume their children are all right, unaware of what it might mean to their children to know their father has thought of them over the years. There's no tearful TV reunion shows, magazine spreads, not even a Birth Father Day. They don't write memoirs. They don't even talk much about their lost children, and when they do, they get little sympathy.

We mothers who lost our children to adoption would like to tell them, seek out your children. Be there to answer their questions. We encourage fathers considering giving up their children to think long and hard before they do so. Fathers are not interchangeable. DNA matters. While you and your child's mother may not be compatible, you are still the father. Abdicating your paternal responsibilities can have far-reaching negative consequences. What seems simple today you may live to regret tomorrow. --lorraine and jane
*According to the Children's Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services, there were 63,094 non-public, non-intercountry adoptions, in 2008, the last year for which it has posted data. If the national rate for stepparent adoption are about the same as the rate in Oregon, about 28,000 of these were stepparent adoptions which is about twice the number of infant adoptions, 14,000 to 15,000 per year.

Oregon Adoption Statistics
Child Welfare Information Gateway: How Many Children Were Adopted in 2007 and 2008?

Birth Fathers and their Adoption Experiences by Gary Clapton
"Virtually all literature about birth parents of adopted children has focused on mothers. In this pioneering study, Gary Clapton gives us a fresh perspective: he recounts the experiences of thirty birth fathers separated from their children at birth, and suggests ways of applying this knowledge to work with adopted children, their adoptive families and birth parents. Discussing different notions of fatherhood, such as biological paternity, social fatherhood, sperm donorship and the 'father figure,' this informative book gives new light on issues such as the decision to give up a child for adoption, the child's desire to find his or her birth parents, and the facilitation of contact later in life. Written in an accessible style for busy professional readers, Birth Fathers and their Adoption Experiences offers a new understanding of the causes and consequences of adoption, and makes positive suggestions for working with those whom it affects."--Amazon 

Ever After: Fathers and the Impact of Adoption by Gary Coles
"This book is about the fathers of children who were raised in other, adoptive families. Frequently, in writings about the separation of parent and child, the emphasis is on the mother and her son or daughter. The father is an absent, or at best a peripheral figure. The Invisible Men of Adoption brings the father into the open and accords him his proper place within the family of origin. Through this exposure of the ‘invisible men’, the reader will gain a full appreciation of what it means to be a birth father. The Invisible Men of Adoption also explores and demonstrates the benefits of birth fathers being included in the mending of emotional wounds caused by the initial separation of the three family members. This key role for the birth father in a tripartite setting has not been addressed by anyone else in adoption literature. The Invisible Men of Adoption is the culmination of Gary Coles’ writings about the place of birth fathers in adoption."--Amazon

THANK YOU FOR ORDERING THROUGH FMF. The book jackets or their titles will link to Amazon. 


  1. Great post. Every word written here is true. Fathers.....DO seek out your children if you allowed stepfather adoption to happen. If you are thinking of allowing the stepfather to adopt your child, please think twice.

    This is another situation where I can state a personal example, involving a cousin of mine. But there is so much more to his story that it is not appropriate to post here. The fact that his stepfather adopted him (and later divorced his mother) caused serious problems in his life. He also has the legal problem of his OBC being sealed, and an ABC issued when the stepfather adopted him. But there is much more to the story, which I will post another time.

    Again, great , thought provoking post.

  2. There's pressure on the mother to do this, beyond just her new husband. When I married my first husband I already had a child from a former relationship. I went on to have two more sons with my husband. When my oldest was about to start kindergarten many people told me it would be hard on him having a different last name than the rest of his family. I could see that point. He didn't have his father's last name anyway, he had my maiden name. Still, as an adoptee myself, I didn't want to do that to him. We wound up having his last name legally changed, but my husband never adopted him.

  3. This is a seldom covered aspect of adoption most do not think about. And is often met with the most positive thoughts and outlook. I was raised by my stepdad. He's my dad. He's family. When he first married my mother, it had been discussed with me and my brother about him adopting us. We had contact with our father, though sporadic, and had a continued solid relationship with our father's side of the family. We were also only 7 yrs old and 5 yrs old and the burden of the request was on us. "Would you want Ed to be your legal dad?" Our first thought was how this would hurt our father's feelings and that side of the family. We didn't want it. Our father was in and out of our lives through our entire childhood, mostly due to his utter lack of desire to be a parent. The man my mother married filled those shoes willingly. He saw his own childhood in us. He was also a child of divorce with a father who only was a father when convenient and stepfather who filled those shoes, but was unkind to him. He did not want to be either one of those men. He was our Dad in every sense of the word, just never legally.

    I'm truly on the fence with step parent adoptions because I've seen the ones that were done for the wrong reasons. Caveman efforts to mark the territory and keep the interloper away. Vindictive actions by scorned women to cut the fathers out. I'm not sure of my mother's intentions in those moments almost 30 yrs ago. They hadn't been married long. Perhaps her reasons then were vindictive or perhaps my "Dad" wanted to spare my brother and I the heartache that he went through. We may have been too young to have the burden of the request on our shoulders, but I am glad they did.

    I had no issue having a different last name than my mother. I had no issue seeing her husband as my dad, even if there was no legal paper making him such. He was the man who walked me down the aisle at my wedding and he is THE Grandpa to my daughter. We have a Dad/daughter relationship that didn't need a legal seal of approval or the legal severing of my relationship to my father and his side of the family, which I am still close with.

    So I guess the point here is that step parent adoptions are not always necessary, no matter how good of a reason you think you have. Our case may have been one of those cases where dad adopting us would have been a good thing, but in the grand scheme of it all, would it have been necessary? He's our Dad. Nothing changes that. But we also have our father still.

    1. Dorkzilla: I had a similar situation in my own family. My brother was never formally adopted by my father, but he totally filled the role of Dad to my brothers, one of whom was not his legal son, and me. When my brother was able to do so without his biological father's permission (who refused to let him change his name at 18 when he joined the Navy), he legally changed his name so that is it the same as the one he used growing up--and is the same as mine. But his birth certificate continues to be a real record of his birth.

    2. That is not always the case, though. My first husband and I were in the process of working on a stepparent adoption for my daughter, who is now an adult, when her birth father finally responded to one of the contact attempts is been making for the five years of her life. BF said he didn't want to pay child support, but no adoption. He wanted to meet his daughter. So he met her, spent just enough time with her for her to bond with him, then moved out of state. Over the next 10 years, he invited her out to visit once every year or two - just enough to keep her on his "string". Never recognized birthdays or Christmas. When my first husband and I divorced when she was 8, the Court of course said that she was all mine, but my ex loved her as his own (he was at the hospital when she was born, in fact), so we set up our own visitation schedule to maintain that bond. When my daughter hit her mid-teens, she refused to have anything further to do with BF - her own decision, we always encouraged her to spend time with him, etc., but by then she felt that he wasn't really interested in having a parental relationship with her. While she has been allowed to make her own decisions about it and maintains contact with those she feels a family bond with, she now wishes that we had pushed harder to try and get the adoption through so that her dad would be, legally speaking, her dad. She doesn't like that she can't list him as next of kin at work, or that if he's in the hospital (he had a lot of medical issues), she's not technically considered "family" even though he considers her the closest family he has (he has no other children and is currently unmarried) along with his brother and sister. I think a lot of people think that once you're an adult, whether that stepparent adoption happened or not doesn't matter because the relationship is there, but if that were true, then no one would be fighting for gay marriage.

    3. She can still adopt him! Most states allow adult adoption!

  4. My daughter's father is stepfather-adopted. His father was apparently mentally ill and abusive. But I don't see how the adoption solved that problem. If it weren't for the genealogical DNA services out there now, my daughter would have a hard time tracing her ancestry. (He was born in the Finger Lakes region and his adoption may have occurred there too since both his mom and stepfather are from NY. If not, the adoption occurred in SC. Both states are closed-records.)

    It's all very well and good to say that a better man stepped up but for anyone thinking that, I'd just like to point out that adopting your partner's child doesn't cure what the ex did. This guy still has flashbacks of what his father did to him. He won't even refer to him as a father--calls him "sperm donor" instead. The "sperm donor" passed away close to a decade ago according to Social Security records, so it's not like my daughter has to worry about him now. Adoption took care of none of that--it would have all happened in the fullness of time anyway.

  5. Sorry, but part of why step fathers adopt their new wive's kids is partly the mother's fault. So many women, pissed off at their child's father push them to do so for revenge, or to flaunt in their face someone else is better than you. Women also do this because in a new relationship the guy adopting her kids is romantic-a romantic faucet of the relationship to her. Maybe a lot of women should start thinking about their children more than themselves and ask them what THEY want first.

    1. I agree exs are in such a hurry to eliminate the other parent. Would they like that no way but most mom's are dealing with THEIR issues.
      My step thing never adopted any of my 5 sibs. He was to busy making us live through hell and at 89 he is still at it. In between boughts of senility and when he needs our help. He is taking money out of joint acct with mom secretly. He does not wantus to have anything, been a molester, abuser, made decision to have my son adopted. PLEASE die, and let us have some piece you f@$&er

  6. I guess I am one of the few who truly does not wish to have their "Father" seek them out. He tripped in and out of our lives for so many early years, always leaving a fresh mark of grief and heartache behind. Broken promises, calls never made, support payments "in the mail" but somehow lost along the way. His refusal to allow my 'StepDad' to legally adopt me (and my sister) was sustained only by cruelty. Only when his new wife demanded he break ties completely and free himself from what tiny bit of financial connection he sporadically maintained to us, did he agree to the adoption. His decisions were always fueled by greed and money.

    In our case StepParent adoption was a blessing, especially because our 'StepDad' had a child by a previous marriage who lived with us. Legally we became what we already were: his children.

    Granted I had limited access to my "father" so perhaps that has aided in diminishing my desire to trace that branch of the family tree; I shudder a bit when I see others making sweeping statements encouraging all fathers to seek out their tossed aside offspring with the expectation of open arms.

    No thanks!

    Beth 2

  7. I'm an adult adoptee and my husband adopted my oldest son. I really struggled with the decision of step-parent adoption because of my own issues with adoption. In the end I came to the conclusion that my child shouldn't suffer because of my issues so I allowed the adoption. The biggest reason I wanted my husband to adopt my son was to protect my son in case something were to happen to me before he turned 18. His biological father loves him but a combination of mental illness, criminal activity, and lifestyle choices made being with him and unsafe situation for my son. All of these factors were reflected in our custody agreement but in the case of my death he would have sole custody unless my son were to actually be harmed after that.

  8. Anonymous at 12:42.:
    We have a similar situation in our family. My brother in law adopted his step-son and at least part of the thinking is it would protect the child if something happened to my sister in law. The father was and is not in the picture at all. They have 2 other children. If something happened to her, my sister in law wanted to make sure her son would remain with his siblings and the only father he knows. But the post is very interesting and something I honestly had not thought a lot about.

  9. I would like to adopt my stepdaughter but not because I need a piece of paper showing ownership. Her mother is mentally ill and if anything were to happen to my husband I would have a custody battle on my hands. Interestingly enough, not with her mother but with my MIL who has been fighting us. If it came to a legal battle between my MIL and her biological mother, my MIL would win and she's Satan incarnate. My state allows for children of stepparent adoptions to not have their OBC changed.



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.