When my son started secondary school, he was befriended by a girl and over the years they developed a strong friendship, continuing into university. My son insisted the friendship was platonic.
At university, they had a bust up and the friendship finished. My son refused to disclose what happened. Whenever I ran into her she was always polite and friendly. I always hoped they would reconcile but they didn’t and she moved away six years ago.
Recently, she came to the house because she is getting married and her new husband wants to adopt her twin boys. She explained that it would be easier to do so with my son’s consent, as he is their biological father, but my son was not responding to her messages. She was shocked to discover that my husband and I had no idea we had become grandparents. She’d assumed that we knew but maintained the same stance as our son, who apparently met his sons very briefly and then stormed out. He has never paid maintenance and had nothing to do with the pregnancy. This girl was very sympathetic, even apologetic, which makes the whole thing more shaming.
She told me that she and my son had a one-night stand.
I tried to confront my son – I even tried to be measured about it – but he stormed out of the house and refused to come back until my husband promised we would never mention it again.
I want a relationship with my grandsons but their mother tells me that she does not want to destabilise them. She quietly but firmly indicated that she would not be introducing me as a new grandparent, and said she had to put the boys first.
All I think about are those two boys. I can’t stop crying. All I can see is that I have failed as a mother in producing this bloodless, ghastly young man who has no concept of the ties of blood. Everything that my husband does makes me angry. I am struggling to even speak to my son. I just don’t know how to break out of this pattern of hating my son.
I really feel for you, what a lot to contend with. You must be in shock. Your longer letter talked of so much hope about your son and this girl; and now so much anger and hate. That can’t be easy for any of you to handle.
I consulted Caroline Dalal (aft.org.uk), a systemic and family psychotherapist. She wonders if “the anger and hatred you are experiencing is part of the grief you feel for the loss of the grandchildren you have not known – or known about – and now on top of this the anticipated grief of a possible adoption. I recognise how hard this is for you but wonder if it is possible to get beyond the hatred and start to consider your relationship with your husband and son?
“What if you were to believe it has not been easy – in different ways – for them either? I wonder what your son might think or say if he were able to talk about this with you without fear of an angry response. And perhaps your husband?”
I wonder what your relationship with your son was like before all this? To me, your son’s reaction doesn’t show bloodlessness, but fear. He’s terrified, but of what I’m not sure. Presumably, it’s a certainty that the children are your son’s?
The way you speak of this girl is so different to how you speak about your son. Was it always like this? What did she represent to you?
We wondered if you would consider talking to a counsellor. I think it would help you hugely to be able to talk freely and safely about this. Your GP might be your first port of call if you don’t want to go privately. By keeping this in (you said you’ve spoken to no one else), you cannot get any other perspective, which I think would really help.
This is not an easy situation to be dealing with alone. In time, perhaps your husband and son could join you in counselling? Dalal suggests: “They may each have different thoughts and feelings, but this situation affects you all.” Also, hard as it is to believe now, your son may go on to have more children with another partner. It would be a shame to forever sour your relationship with your (only?) son.
You haven’t asked about the legal situation, but I consulted the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (baaf.org.uk). A comprehensive answer about the legalities of a step-parent adopting a child – and a grandparent’s legal rights or lack of them – is set out underneath this column on the Guardian website. But basically the adoption can go ahead without your son’s say-so if the court deems it to be in the best interests of the child.
The BAAF has an advice line (020-3597 6116) and they also suggested the Grandparents Association (grandparents-association.org.uk), which has a helpline (0845 4349585), and support groups. You’re not alone in this.
The legalities of adoption
With thanks to a legal adviser from the BAAF, who compiled this for us:
Application by a step-parent for an adoption order
A step-parent can apply for an adoption order if the court is satisfied that the person applying is the partner of the parent of the children who are the subject of the application. It is no longer necessary for both the adults – the step-parent and birth parent – to apply together to adopt the child or children.
If the court makes an adoption order, the effect is to give parental responsibility to the step-parent and to terminate or extinguish the child’s legal relationship with the biological parent, who is not the partner of the step-parent. It means that this couple now make all the decisions about the child.
In law, the child is then treated as the child of the adopter [step-parent] and his or her partner [the biological parent]. Thus, the effect of the adoption order is to sever the legal relationship between the other biological parent and his or her wider family. This means that either the maternal or paternal family members are no longer legally related to the child.
The alternative route for a step parent to acquire Parental Responsibility for a step child is to either make a formal agreement with both biological parents to share PR, or to get a court order to that effect. This does not sever the legal relationship between a child, a biological parent and his/her extended family members.
The adoption process requires the step-parent who wishes to adopt to notify the local authority of his or her application and the authority must prepare a report for court looking at the circumstances of the children, the biological parent and the suitability of the step-parent to adopt the children and have regard for their welfare, throughout their life.
Before making the adoption order, the court must consider the contact arrangements because the effect of making the adoption order is to end any existing contact orders.
To make the adoption order, the court will require either the other parent’s consent or will have to make a finding that his or her consent should be dispensed with. The justification for that is that the welfare of the children, which is paramount, requires the court to dispense with consent. The court must have regard to a child’s existing family relationships when considering whether to make an adoption order.
The court is likely to make directions to see if the “absent” father or mother’s whereabouts can be ascertained and their views made known to the court. Such views are not determinative. The court, if satisfied that the other parent cannot be found, can proceed to dispense with their consent if it considers the welfare of the children requires this.
The court must also consider its other powers and options before making the adoption order.
It is not usual for the court to make orders for contact after making an adoption order. Making such an order imposes a duty on the adoptive parent[s] to comply with a court order and this is not usually consistent with the wider context in which adoption is seen as the preferred outcome to secure the child’s welfare throughout their childhood and beyond.
Grandparents do not have “special rights” to be involved in arrangements about where and with whom their grandchild will live. Nor can they require the parents to allow them to see their grandchildren or indirectly have contact. Nor do they have the right to be involved in the adoption of their grandchildren. They are not automatically involved, so they will not be notified of any application by the step-father for an adoption order.
To seek a contact order, the grandparent will need the court’s permission first to issue any application to be involved in the adoption proceedings, if that is what the step-parent now intends to do.
The court will look at what sort of order the grandparent is asking for ie contact, their connection to the children and any risk the proposed application has of disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that the child would be harmed by any order.
Getting permission to start proceedings
The court will consider the history, the present circumstances and the impact of the history and current situation on whether a contact order requiring the parent and step-parent to enable the child to have either direct or indirect contact is viable alongside the adoption order, if the court makes that order. While the resident parent’s wishes are not the sole factor, it is one factor that the court will give weight to as part of the consideration of the child’s welfare.
The court, when considering whether to grant the grandparent permission to start proceedings, will look at the likely outcome of him or her making an application and its impact on the family life that the resident parent and step-parent have established and are presently providing for the children.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 16 May 2014.