Whether parents had biological children together or expanded their family through adoption, the parents' divorce will lead to questions of custody. Generally, adopted children are treated the same as biological children, though some differences may arise in the case of stepparent adoptions. Some individuals may also pursue an adoption after a divorce is finalized.
Legal Effect of Child Adoption
When an Iowa state court approves an adoption petition by granting a final adoption decree, the adoptive parent(s) generally gains full parental rights to the child. A final adoption decree establishes a parent-child relationship, as if the child had been born to the parent. Accordingly, adoptive parents have the same parental rights as parents who have their children biologically. In the event of a divorce, a spouse must have parental rights in order to request child custody. A completed adoption establishes those parental rights.
Divorce and Custody of Adopted Child
If parents end their marriage after a child's adoption, Iowa divorce and custody laws do not treat them differently from parents who had children biologically. In a divorce, the state court may award sole custody of the adopted child to one parent or joint custody to both parents. The court's decision usually depends on the judge's determination of the child's best interests after reviewing the factors set by state law. In Iowa, custody factors include each parent's fitness to participate in raising the child and each parent's active involvement in the child's life. While adoption doesn't normally figure into the decision, it could if one of the divorcing parents gained parental rights through a stepparent adoption. In that case, the court might consider the child's relationship with the adoptive parent.
Stepparent Adoption After Divorce
If parents divorce, they may encounter legal issues in the future if a former spouse starts a new relationship. A new husband or a new wife may hope to adopt a child from a spouse's former marriage — this process is known as a stepparent adoption. In a stepparent adoption, Iowa law requires a termination of the rights held by the parent who is not married to the stepparent. This requirement applies regardless of whether the parents gained their rights upon the child's birth or through an adoption. The state might pursue an involuntary termination of parental rights for a reason such as abandonment. As an alternative to an involuntary termination of parental rights, the child's other parent may give voluntary consent to the adoption as part of the adoption proceedings.
Adoption by Divorced Single Parent
Iowa adoption laws do not prevent someone who is divorced from pursuing the adoption of a child. State law specifically permits an unmarried person to file an adoption petition. The state court reviews the adoption case and decides whether to approve the petition. In general, married spouses must both participate in an adoption case. If a prospective adoptive parent has separated from a spouse but has not yet divorced, the petitioner may need to provide the court with a reason to grant the petition without the other spouse's participation. For example, a separated spouse might be able to adopt without a finalized divorce by showing abandonment, the other spouse's incapacity or another reason recognized by Iowa adoption laws.