Adhesive joints have been widely used in various fields because they are lighter than mechanical joints and show a more uniform stress distribution if compared with traditional joining techniques. Also they are appropriate to be used with composite materials. Therefore, several studies were performed for the simulation of the bonded joints mechanical behavior. In general for adhesive joints, there is a scale difference between the adhesive and the substrate in geometry. Thus, mesh generation for an analysis is difficult and a manual mesh technique is needed. This task is not efficient and sometimes some errors can be introduced. Also, element quality gets worse. In this paper, the superimposed finite element method is introduced to overcome this problem. The superimposed finite element method is one of the local mesh refinement methods. In this method, a fine mesh is generated by overlaying the patch of the local mesh on the existing mesh called the global mesh. Thus, re-meshing is not required. Elements in the substrate are generated. Then, the local refinement using the superimposed finite element method is performed near the interface between the substrate and the adhesive layer considering the shape of the element, the element size of the adhesive layer and the quality of the generated elements. After performing the local refinement, cohesive elements are generated automatically using the interface nodes. Consequently, a manual meshing process is not required and a fine mesh is generated in the adhesive layer without the need for any re-meshing process. Thus, the total mesh generation time is reduced and the element quality is improved. The proposed method is applied to several examples. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.