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My husband and I married 2 years ago. He and I both have 3-yr-olds and we have a 10 month old together. My 3-yr-old son, Aiden, has not seen his biological father since he was about 14 mths old. Naturally, he thinks that my husband is his father. We've always planned for my husband to adopt my son, because he also doesn't have his biological father's last name (it's my maiden name). Last winter, I found out that my ex was in prison for dealing drugs (hence the reason we seperated). Last week, he contacted me at work to let me know that he was out, and while he was in prison, had time to think things over. He's never tried to contact us before now. He wants visitation rights to his son. He wants to keep this out of court (not to say that I wouldn't fight him), but I don't trust him and I'm afraid that even if my husband and I just met with him once a month to let him see our son, it would traumatize Aiden, because he's only 3, and is not going to understand this situation. What do I need to do? Would it be possible to go ahead and get an adoption under way so that legally, he couldn't get visitation rights?


Sharon Silver Replied: You'll need a lawyer to determine if you can start adoption proceedings without your ex's consent, I'm not a lawyer. However as a parent educator, I do have a few ideas about how to make this a bit easier on the little one. 1. This situation was always going to come out. Even if you didn't tell your son about his biological father, your ex would approach your son at some point. Get a good lawyer who specializes in this area and get there soon. 2. I would begin the introduction process while your son is still young, and the introduction process does NOT have to be in person. In fact it would be best at this moment if the introductions weren't in person-let me explain. You don't have to leave your child alone with his biological father until the court tells you that you need to. Your son's emotional health is what's most important here. Try this. * I would use role-play to introduce the concept of a biological father to him. Get socks or real puppets and create a story about another family who's dealing with the issues your family is dealing with. This will open a dialog to refer back to later. * Watch your son's reaction as you do the role-play. Make sure not to overload him with lots of information and details. Only give him answers to *his* questions. If he wants to run off and play after the role-play, then so be it. Then wait for more of *his* questions, follow his lead. 3. The last bit of advice would be to have a picture of his biological father ready to show your son so he can get used to what he looks like and won't be as shocked when and if he needs to see him. And when he says, "I don't want to go." Be empathetic, don't panic along side his fear, and ask him what will make going to see this man easier-because he has to go. 4. If he does need to see his biological father then make sure you also have some things all ready to make him feel safe while he isn't with you. Maybe a handkerchief with your perfume on it, so he can smell you, or a note from you, or his favorite blanket, what ever he needs to feel safe and strong enough to get through this. 5. If he begins to misbehave, remember he isn't old enough to articulate his emotions about this so he may use misbehavior as his way to communicate. Try to remember that. If you need help correcting his misbehavior, take a look at my website,, we have lots of respectful ways to respond to a child who is misbehaving versus reacting. Good Luck.
Posted On 2008-07-22 16:07:02
Elinor Robin, PhD Replied: This is a complicated situation with a complex set of facts. You need to discuss the adoption issue with an attorney. Adoption laws are state-by-state and you want to find out what your state says about stepparent adoption. However, before you decide to pursue the adoption you also want to consider the difference between what might be good legal advice and what is good life advice. I believe that every child benefits when he has more people to love him. Your son will grow up knowing that your husband is not his biological father. And, so its important that he knows something positive about his biological father too. Is there anything positive about the father that you can focus on? (There must be something as you did decide to have his child.) Many years ago I worked with a family with a similar situation. Only the little boy was now an adult and in jail himself. As a child all he learned about his biological father was that he was a drug addict and bum. And, like most of us, he found a way to be "loyal" to his father in the only way he knew how. He emulated his biological father, not the wonderful stepfather who raised him. A child will cook up his own version of the truth when he is kept away from a parent. (Even abused children frequently idolize the abusing parent when contact is cut off.) I believe that you may all be best served by allowing some contact so that your son can form his own opinions over time. I would be surprised if your ex lives up to the role of father. More likely - if you don't fight him - he will just go away and fall into his old patterns. Your job is to ensure that your son is kept safe. You can start doing this by ensuring that nothing negative is said about his biological father in front of him. Please keep me posted.
Posted On 2008-07-22 08:29:36
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