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Open or Closed Adoption: Which is Right for You?

Adoption is an exciting process. You are beginning a lifelong relationship and commitment when you add to your family by adopting a child. It is crucial to think about how the adoption process will affect you and the child throughout the process.

Types of adoption include:

  • Open adoption
  • Closed adoption
  • Semi-open adoption

Most modern adoption relationships are open, but open adoption may not be the right choice for you and your family. After you decide to adopt a child, it may be surprising to find out how complex the adoption system can be. If you are unsure which type of adoption is right for you, contact an adoption attorney or adoption professionals for advice. Adoption law differs by state, so we suggest consulting an adoption law expert in a city near you to get the best advice for your unique circumstances.

Pros and Cons of Open Adoption

In an open adoption, the birth parents and the adoptive parents know each other’s identities. Often, there is direct contact between the adoptive family and the birth family. Contact may include in-person visits, video chats, or sending letter updates. Sometimes, there is ongoing contact after the child has been adopted and the biological parents have a relationship with the child. Some experts believe that this is an emotionally healthy option for all involved.

Open adoptions are becoming more common with benefits and drawbacks for both parents. The birth parent can see the adoptive parents over time and better understand how they will be as parents to the child. Open adoption may also help the birth mother know that the child is being well cared for, without the unknown of a closed adoption. However, if the birth parent changes their mind after the adoption, it can create a tense relationship when the birth mother sees and interacts with the child.

The two main advantages to open adoptions are that the adopted child never has to wonder about his birth parents or spend time searching for them. Some families benefit from a positive relationship between all parents, and the adopted child can connect with their extended family. Plus, if a complicated medical issue arises, it can be helpful to get medical records or have blood relatives of the child tested for organ or blood compatibility.

However, it is essential to keep in mind the purpose of adoption is to terminate the biological family’s parental rights and give parental legal rights to the adoptive family. Therefore, if the adoptive parents decide to end visitation or contact with the birth family, then the birth parents may have a difficult time continuing their relationship with the child.

Open adoptions can be emotionally difficult for birth parents and adoptive parents. Some adoptive parents may feel pressured to stay in contact with the biological family, even if it is not in the child’s best interests. It is important to seek legal advice before entering an open adoption arrangement.

In Washington, for example, an open adoption arrangement must be in writing and signed by the required parties. The rights of communication and contact to which parents agree may be enforced by court order. Both birth parents and adoptive parents need to know that the adoption process is permanent and that the parental responsibilities have been transferred.

Pros and Cons of Closed Adoption

In a closed adoption, birth parents and adoptive parents work through an adoption agency, adoption counselors, or another third party. They generally do not have regular contact with one another. Care is taken to prevent each party from learning the other’s identity, and a closed adoption plan is confidential. Important information about the child’s medical history and other information can be provided by the agency to the adoptive parents.

With open adoption, the parents may change their minds after the adoption. The birth parents may want more contact, video chats, or regular in-person visits when they only wanted temporary updates beforehand. The adoptive parents may be concerned about the increased contact with the birth mother but feel pressured to allow the birth mother full access to their lives.

The information about the adoption and the birth parents is sealed in a closed adoption. Traditionally, adoptees would need a court order to get that information released. California, for example, still requires a court order at the discretion of a judge to unseal closed adoption records. However, the law instructs judges to give great weight to petitions for an order on behalf of adult adoptees.

But, starting in the late 1990s, some states began to allow adoptees over 18 to have their adoption records released without a court order. New York passed such a law in 2019 so that adoptees can receive their certified pre-adoption birth certificate from the State Department of Health after they turn 18. This is consistent with a growing trend in this country toward open adoptions.

Some parents benefit from the sense of closure in a closed adoption. Without options for contact, the birth parents can move on, and the child can grow up only knowing the adoptive parents. A closed option is also the only option if the adoptive parents do not wish to tell the child that they are adopted.

Middle of the Road Approach: Semi-Open Adoptions

While the past few decades have brought many more open adoptions, many adoptive parents are concerned with allowing the prospective birth mother to remain in the child’s life. Accordingly, another approach is available where an agency or an attorney acts as a neutral third party and allows the adoptive and birth parents to communicate without knowing the other’s identity.

Often called a semi-open adoption, birth parents can see photos or get updates about the child’s health, education, and life through the agency or adoption professional. Adoptive parents can ask questions. A positive relationship between the parents can also benefit the child when the child later has questions about the birth family, extended family, or medical history.

However, it remains a confidential adoption without the birth parents having the adoptive parents’ contact information. An adoption plan or agreement can also lay out the level of contact, frequency of contact, and degree of openness.

Questions to Ask About an Adoption

Before deciding which adoption option is best for you, it is important to communicate your wishes and plans. For birth parents who want an open adoption, make sure you understand how open the adoption communication will be, including:

  • How will I communicate with the adoptive parents?
  • Can I visit my child after the adoption?
  • How often can I contact the adoptive parents and my child?
  • Do I have any rights if the new parents refuse to let me have in-person meetings?
  • What happens if I don’t think the adoptive parents provide the best care?

Similarly, the adoptive family needs to understand their wishes and communicate their desires without feeling pressured. Questions to ask the adoption agency or your adoption lawyer may include:

  • Can we keep the adoption anonymous?
  • Do I have to allow the birth mother to visit the child?
  • What if the biological parent changes their mind after the child is born?
  • Is an open adoption in the child’s best interests?
  • What happens if I don’t think the birth parents are a good influence on the child?
  • Can we have an open adoption without direct contact with the birth parents?
  • How does an open adoption work with international adoption?
  • What do prospective birth mothers want in the adoption?

How Can an Adoption Lawyer Help Me?

An adoption lawyer can help you understand your adoption options, support you through the adoption process, and represent you in the case of a problem. An adoption attorney can help you understand the pros and cons of each type of adoption and even develop a third option with some aspects of openness. An attorney can also help you create an adoption plan that balances the interests of all parents. If the birth parent changes their mind or wants more contact than originally agreed, an experienced lawyer can help support the adoptive parents and the child.

When adoptions are conducted according to the wishes of both the birth parents and the adoptive parents, adoption can be a wonderful advantage to society. Both birth parents and adoptive parents should seriously consider the repercussions of closed and open adoptions before deciding which path to take.

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