Open vs. Closed Adoption

When considering whether to adopt, it's important to know about the options of closed adoptions versus open adoptions. In a closed adoption, there may also be no contact before the adoption. In an open adoption, all the parties remain in one another's lives for post-adoption contact.  However, the extent of the adoption relationship varies. Parents may sign a post-adoption agreement to clarify things. 

 After a closed adoption, there is no contact whatsoever between the birthparents and the adoptive parents and the child. 

Choosing between an open or closed adoption is just one choice you have to make for your adoption plan.

Keep reading to learn more about open vs. closed adoptions and which could be a better fit for your situation.

Closed Adoptions

Closed adoptions remain common in international adoption processes (also called intercountry adoptions). International adoptions often have more restrictions than domestic adoptions.

A closed adoption is also particularly common in situations where families use an agency to adopt a newborn. The biological parents give up their parental rights. The prospective adoptive family places their name on a list, and that family waits for the social worker to make a match. A home study on the adoptive parents is completed prior to the placement of the child.

Typically, the adoptive parents remain unaware of where the child comes from or who the child's birth parents are. The child may not even ever know that they came into the family through adoption. A new birth certificate is issued upon finalizing the adoption.

Even if the adoptive parents and biological family know of each other at the time of the adoption, they do not stay in touch after the adoption takes place. The child often will not know who their birth parents are, especially before turning 18.

Adult adoptees may have access to adoption records, which could include non-identifying information about their biological parents. The information could include basic facts and medical history/medical information.

After closing an adoption, the files are usually physically sealed. Nevertheless, most states have created procedures through which family members seeking to "open" a closed adoption may be able to access information about the other parties.

However, such processes vary widely from state to state. Some states, for example, require a court order to reveal information that may identify a party to an adoption.

Open Adoptions

Increasingly common nowadays is the "open" adoption process, in which the adoptive parents actually meet (and usually stay in touch with) the birth parents.

Each adoption is a unique experience. The degree of openness and interaction between adoptive parents and birth parents varies. It depends on how comfortable all parties are with the process and circumstances. However, most adoption agencies now encourage some degree of openness because of the benefits of open adoption.

There are different levels of openness. You can have a fully open adoption with lots of contact and sharing of identifying information. Or you may opt for a semi-open adoption. In this type of adoption, the contact is more limited than in a fully open adoption. The contact is usually facilitated by a mediator. The mediator might be an agency caseworker, an adoption attorney, or another adoption professional.

In cases of private adoptions or adoptions where parents use agencies, the birth mother and birth father typically have a voice in choosing their child's adoptive parents. Commonly, the agency gives birthparents biographies of prospective adoptive parents. The birthparents pick the family with which they are most comfortable. In some private adoptions, the birth parents suggest an adoptive placement such as a relative or close friend of the family. The birth parents may already be intimately familiar with the prospective parents.

In open adoptions, the birth family and adoptive parents often meet. In-person visits are a common part of open adoptions. They may also be in touch frequently with phone calls or texts during the pregnancy.

Many times, the adoptive parents are able to witness their child's birth. Some families stay in touch through their adoption agency, especially on birthdays, holidays, and high points during the child's life. Others become and remain friends.

Open Adoption: Pros and Cons

For both birth parents and adoptive parents, the open adoption process can remove the mystery from the adoption process. It also can permit a greater degree of control in the decision-making process. The open adoption process also allows adoptive parents to answer better their children's questions about who their birth parents were and why they were adopted. Open adoptions can also help the child come to terms with being adopted since everyone involved in the adoption process can directly address the child's concerns.

There can be downsides to open adoption. Many adoptive parents find the degree of openness a threat. They may fear that the birthparents will intrude upon their lives after the adoption is over or even seek to have the child returned to them. Adoptive parents may worry that the child will experience confusion over who their "real" parents are. They may have concerns about the child's welfare and how the knowledge affects them. This can be particularly true when a child has been exposed to child abuse or neglect and is adopted out of foster care. Oftentimes, foster parents adopt a child placed with them. Human services or social services often provide follow-up services to adoptive families in these situations. Adoption services providers can continue to serve as a resource for the adoptive family even after finalizing the adoption.

The family court will look at what is in the best interests of the child before finalizing an adoption.

Open or Closed Adoption? Let an Attorney Help You Make the Right Choice

Choosing an open or closed adoption is just one question you'll face in the adoption process. There are also important legal questions that will arise as you take on the custody and care of an adopted child. You will need sound legal advice. A skilled family law attorney experienced with adoption law can set your mind at ease and ensure a smooth adoption and experience with the legal process. An adoption attorney will be familiar with your state laws concerning adoption options and procedures.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
  • An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
  • An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
  • For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency

Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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