If your current wife wants to adopt your daughter, the two of you must go through a legal process to make that happen. That legal process generally supersedes anything that happened before, including a custody order you had prior to the adoption. Laws vary from state to state regarding the stepparent adoption process, but in all jurisdictions, the establishment of a new parent-child relationship between your wife and your daughter is absolute. Your wife’s judgment of adoption would trump your ex’s rights under any previous custody order.
Termination of Parental Rights
As part of the stepparent adoption process, every state requires both biological parents to consent to the adoption. Therefore, you would have to consent and your ex would have to consent as well. An exception exists in some jurisdictions if your ex emotionally or financially abandoned your daughter, either by not being in contact with her for years or by not contributing to her support for a year or more. State laws differ, but in most jurisdictions, this overrides the legal need for her consent; the court will allow the adoption to go through without it. Either by consent or by court order due to abandonment, your ex’s parental rights terminate when your current wife legally adopts your daughter. Your ex would have no further right to custody or visitation and she would no longer have an obligation to pay support on your daughter’s behalf.
Effect on Custodial Parent
Because adoption terminates your ex’s parental rights, it invalidates any custody order that once addressed those rights. You and your current wife would have custody of your daughter. Your parental rights remain unchanged, except you no longer share them with your ex; you would share them with your current wife. If you and your current wife divorce, she would have the right to petition the court for custody of your daughter or for visitation with her.
Although your ex loses her parental rights at the time of the adoption, this doesn’t necessarily mean she can no longer see your daughter if you choose to allow visitation. It just means that she has no legal right to visitation. If you want to allow continued contact between them, this would be a private agreement between you, your current wife and your ex; it would not involve a court order. If you changed your mind at some point, your ex could do nothing to contest your decision.
State laws vary with respect to your daughter’s rights after adoption. In some states, such as Ohio, she can no longer inherit from her mother. In other states, the adoption would not limit her right to inherit from her mother. In addition, she would have the right to inherit from your current wife. For all legal purposes, adoption means your daughter is as much your current wife’s daughter as she is yours, treated no differently than had your current wife given birth to her.