Is Open Adoption Right For You?

In an open adoption, the birth parents and adoptive parents interact. The contact can also include the adopted child. The level of interaction depends on how comfortable the family members feel. Communication might be in letters, emails, texts, or in-person visits.

Is open adoption right for you? This is an important question to ask both birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. Does openness in adoption appeal to you? Whether an open adoption will be successful can depend on a number of factors, especially the wishes of the birth parent.

The following article will help you decide whether open adoption is the right avenue for your family.

Open Adoption Basics

When you're conducting your adoption research, one of the key factors to determine, before embarking on an open adoption, is the type and frequency of anticipated contact that will occur between the child and the birth parents. Communication may include direct contact consisting of letters, e-mails, phone calls, or visits.

The frequency of contact is negotiable. There may be ongoing contact that ranges from every few years to several times a month or more. Contact often changes as a child grows and has more questions about their adoption or as families' needs change. You can outline the specific terms in a post-adoption contact agreement.

It's important to note that even in an open adoption, adoptions sever the legal relationship between a birth parent and child.

For other children who aren't adopted, the birth mother or the biological mother is the legal mother. For married parents, the father is the presumed legal father if the child's birth occurs during the marriage. He is the presumptive birth father. The biological parents give up their parental rights. The adoptive parents become the "legal" parents of their adopted children.

The goals of open adoption are:

  • To reduce the child's sense of loss
  • To maintain and uplift the adopted child's relationships with all the significant people in their life
  • To let the child deal with the feelings of loss with honesty instead of an idealized version of family of origin that an adopted child makes up in their head when they don't have contact with their birth family

Types of Adoptions

Before you can fully embrace open adoption, remember there are different types of adoption. This does not include adult adoption, where the adopted person is not a minor child, and the person adopting the adult must be at least ten years older than the adoptee in most cases.

The adoption type may impact your decision. Or it may inform your decision-making about your adoption plan. There are various types of adoption, including:

  • Child Welfare Adoptions: Adoption through the foster care system. After the court terminates the biological parents' parental rights, foster parents, or another adoptive family, can adopt the children.
  • Kinship/Relative Adoptions: Adopting your relatives. The Child Welfare Information Gateway recognizes that relatives are favored when the state removes children from their home. The goal is to continue family connections between the child and their biological relatives. Sometimes, the relatives adopt the family members in their care.
  • Adoption Agency Adoptions: Adoptive placement via an adoption agency. The agency can be a private adoption agency or a public one. The agency provides adoption services, such as vetting the adoptive parents and locating the child's medical history.
  • Independent Adoptions: Adoption without an adoption agency.
  • International Adoptions: In contrast to a domestic adoption, international adoptions involve adopting children from outside of the U.S.

Deciding Whether Open Adoption Is Right for Your Family

Open adoption is just one of several options available to families. When you opt for open adoption, you can decide what level of openness — or degree of openness — is best for your situation. There are two main levels of openness in an open adoption:

  1. Semi-open (or mediated): In semi-open or mediated adoptions, contact between birth and adoptive families is conducted using a third-party mediator rather than directly. The third party is typically an agency caseworker, social worker, or attorney. In these adoptions, the adoptive family and biological family share non-identifying information such as medical history, pictures, and updates about the child's development.
  2. Fully open adoption: In a fully open adoption, there is direct contact among the parties. Identifying information — such as name and contact information — is shared between the adoptive and biological families. The amount of direct contact the child has with the biological family is negotiable and dependent on the child's best interest and the comfort level of the adoptive parents.

In confidential adoptions or closed adoptions, no contact takes place, and no identifying information is exchanged.

Adoption of children requires much contemplation. Every adoption scenario has special needs and unique circumstances. There is no “one size fits all" situation. If you're considering adoption, you have to consider what type of relationship you want to have with the other parents.

For an open adoption to succeed, the adults involved must recognize the importance of safely maintaining the child's existing relationships with biological relatives. The parties must be flexible and willing to nurture and promote these relationships, despite their occasional ups and downs. Open adoption may not be a good fit for everyone. However, if the parties are committed to the process, able to successfully communicate, and maintain flexibility concerning the child's needs throughout their life, open adoption will likely be successful. As with all family law decisions, it's important to keep the best interests of the child at the forefront. The child's well-being is paramount.

Questions To Consider

In open adoptions, families need to consider when and how much to tell a child about their birth family and then if and how to involve them in that relationship. You should consider the child's welfare and mental health when making this decision. An adoption professional can help you address some of these issues. Or you can get adoption assistance from support groups or other private social services agencies.

Some of the questions you may want to consider include:

  • At what age should a child be included in contact with their birth family?
  • What happens if one party decides to break off all contact?
  • What will the birth parents' role be in the child's life?
  • How will your child explain their relationship with birth relatives to their peers? How will they talk about birth family members?
  • How will you handle other adopted siblings who have different levels of openness in their adoptions?

Get an Attorney's Help To Decide if Open Adoption Is Right for You

There are a lot of variables to consider before pursuing an open adoption. There are many choices in the adoption process, not the least of which is the birth parent's wishes. You'll likely enter into a formal agreement stipulating the frequency of contact with the birth mother or birth father, but you'll have to be emotionally prepared for this type of arrangement.

If you have questions about the legal aspects of an open adoption, you may want to contact an experienced adoption law attorney in your area.

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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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