On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Adoption on Thursday, February 28, 2013
Sometimes, when creating blended families, stepparents will adopt the children of their new spouse. The reasons vary – perhaps the children were born out of wedlock and had little contact with their natural father, or perhaps the children experienced a total breakdown in the relationship with their natural father due to some significant, even traumatizing, event.
Unfortunately, not all stepparent adoptions have happy family endings – sometimes, mom and the stepparent divorce. Usually, the children and the stepparent continue to have a parent-child relationship, but sometimes that relationship deteriorates with the end of the parents’ marriage. If the children make clear in no uncertain terms they want to have nothing to do with their stepfather – and testify to that effect in court – should the stepfather continue to have a support obligation?
The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals had to answer this question earlier this week. In its decision, the Western District noted that once a stepparent completes an adoption of his stepchildren, he has a legal duty to support those children as if they were his natural children. In essence, the law recognizes no distinction between natural and adopted children. Hence, when completing the Form 14 to determine the presumptive child support amount, the trial court must always include adopted children – even if those children wish to have nothing to do with their stepparent. The trial court in this case failed to do so and the Western District reversed and remanded so the trial court could enter a correct Form 14. But the Western District did not stop here – it indicated that the trial court could determine that support would be inappropriate under the circumstances and relieve the stepparent of some or all of his support obligation. If the mother or the parties jointly have contributed to cause the breakdown of the relationship, that could warrant some relief of financial support.
The moral of this case should be that after a stepparent adoption, the adopted child is no different than a natural child and carries the same legal obligations, even if the stepparent subsequently divorces the natural parent-spouse. While the law allows a trial court some leeway to reduce or even abate support, the law first must assure the child will be cared for financially, which means the bar will be high to sever a support obligation solely because the adopted child no longer wants a relationship with the stepparent.
If you have questions about stepparent adoption or child support, contact us – we can help.