Adoption Law

What Is a Closed Adoption?

A closed adoption is a type of adoption where the child's biological mother agrees to have no contact between herself and the child's adoptive parents after the adoption has taken place. Closed adoptions were more common in the past, although they still take place for various personal reasons. Now, approximately 90% of adoptions are considered open adoptions. Procedures for closed adoptions differ by state, so we suggest consulting an adoption attorney in a city near you to get the best advice for your unique circumstances.

What's the Difference Between an Open and Closed Adoption?

In an open adoption, the child's biological mother and the child's adoptive parents form some sort of relationship, informal or formal, frequent or infrequent, as each case allows. The main advantage of open adoption is that the biological mother may retain some form of contact with the adopted child as they continue through life. They can share pertinent medical information, such as genetic disorders and predisposition to certain diseases, within the confines of the open adoption agreement.

In a closed adoption, the child's biological mother and adoptive parents do not share any information after the closure of the adoption process. They might share medical information up to that point in time, but any further contact or inquiry may be prevented by the biological mother or the government representing her interests. In California, for example, records from a closed adoption can only be opened with a court order granted at a judge's discretion.

The advantage of closed adoption is that it may allow for some form of closure or emotional distancing for both the biological mother and the adoptive parents.

Reasons for Closed Adoptions

Some of the most commonly cited reasons for a closed adoption include the sense of closure provided by the process, most often initiated by the biological mother for personal reasons.

Another scenario in which a closed adoption may be preferable for the birth mother and birth father is one where there is an unstable or unsafe family environment. Suppose there is a potential for violence, drug abuse, excessive poverty, or other situation that may endanger the infant's welfare. In that case, closed adoption may be best.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue a closed adoption rather than an open adoption rests in the hands of the biological parent(s). There are several reasons that a biological mother (or a custodial father) may opt to place an infant up for closed adoption.

Can an Open Adoption Be Closed?

In many states, open adoption can effectively be closed by the noncompliance or simple will of the birth parent(s). This essentially means that the biological parent(s) can decide to cease communication.

It is common for an existing open adoption to become closed, as second thoughts are often part of the adoption process for both the adoptive and birth families. However, some states require a certain degree of openness, usually regarding family medical history. For example, in the state of Washington, an open adoption arrangement must be put into writing and signed by the required parties. The rights of communication and contact in the adoption agreement may be enforced by court order unless exceptional circumstances exist.

Accessing Birth Records

In some states, adoptees can access the details of their birth records after reaching a certain age (usually 18 or 25) regardless of the wishes of their biological parents. For example, adoptees in New York can receive their pre-adoption birth certificate from the State Department of Health after they turn 18. Further, adult adoptees have unrestricted access to their records in at least nine other states — Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.