Open and Closed Adoptions

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 What is the Function of Adoption?

In an adoption, a child gets a whole new set of parents (or a single parent, as the case may be). Adoption transfers the legal right to raise the child from the biological parent(s) to the adoptive ones. The adoptive parents become the child’s legal guardians and gain a parent’s rights and responsibilities. The adoption terminates all of the legal rights the child’s biological parents once had.

Adoption parents must consider what level of contact they want their child to have with the biological parents after the adoption is completed. There are two choices: in a “closed” adoption, there will be no contact between the child and the biological family. This is the traditional method of adoption: once the legal activities are complete, the biological parents fade into the background; in an “open” adoption, there will be ongoing contact between the biological parents, the adoptive parents, and the child.

This is fast becoming the new standard form of adoption, largely because biological mothers and fathers often refuse to give up the child for adoption to anyone who intends to pursue a closed adoption.

What is an Open Adoption?

Typically, in an open adoption, the biological parents will choose who will be able to be the future parents of the child. The biological parents will establish the rules of the relationships among the parties. If the adoptive parents do not like the biological parents’ rules, the biological parents will simply resume their search for a couple who will acquiesce to the biological parents’ preferences.

An open adoption encourages communication between the biological and adoptive parents. The adults are allowed to communicate freely with one another before, during, and after the adoption. Depending on the state and the agreement between the two sets of parents, biological parents may be allowed to have ongoing contact with the child, including visitation, telephone calls, and exchanging messages and photos.

However, even if they have the right to participate in the child’s life (at least as witnesses), the biological parents have no right to make any decisions regarding medical care, schooling, or any other choices a parent has to make about a child.

The level of information exchanged and the level of contact between the biological parents and the child depends on the comfort level of the people involved. It is worth noting that while it is the biological parents who typically set forth rules, the adoptive parents are supposed to follow once the adoption is complete (such as “the adoptive parents will provide the biological parents with photographs of the child at least once a year”) if the adoptive parents change their mind after the adoption and no longer want it to be an open adoption, the biological parents have little or no recourse.

If the new parents do not follow the rules about visitation, the biological parents are simply out of luck. There is no way to write a legal adoption in which the child is returned to the biological parents if the adoptive parents fail to comply with the rules that all of the parents once agreed upon.

What is a Closed Adoption?

A closed adoption is very different from an open adoption. The biological parents have little to no input in the child’s placement: an administrative agency conducts the adoption process.

There is no contact between the adoptive and biological parents at any stage of the adoption process, and all contact information for the parties is kept secret. The adoptive parents receive some information regarding the biological parents’ medical history to help with the child’s current or future medical treatment, but there is no other communication in the process.

The adopted child’s parents will not be able to tell the child anything more than what was supplied by the adoption agency. In many cases, the biological parent purposefully leaves behind little to no information to prevent contact, even with the child in the future. When the adoption is complete, the records are sealed. This means that no one can view the original birth certificate or the adoption records without court permission.

Closed adoptions were the rule until the 1970s. This was primarily because biological mothers were ashamed of carrying a baby they could not, or did not want to, raise as their child. The reason that the records were sealed was to protect the biological mother’s reputation.

Are There Disadvantages to an Open Adoption?

The advantages and disadvantages of an open adoption depend upon the situation and the people involved. Some people see it as a great opportunity for the child to know their biological family and keep the lines of communication open. They believe it is in the child’s best interests for the birth parents and the child to know each other.

Indeed, research has shown that this does help an adopted person cope with being adopted. In particular, it reassures the adopted person that they were not rejected by their first parents.

However, some adoptive parents see the openness as threatening their authority. They may have concerns or fears that the biological parents will attempt to intrude on their parenting choices and their own connection with the child. There may also be concern that the child may be confused over who their “real” parents are.

In an open adoption, it is very important to set clear expectations regarding contact between the birth parents and the child. This includes being specific about what actions the biological parents could take that would cause them to lose privileges like visitation or contact with the adopted child – actions such as using illegal drugs when the child is present. The adoptive parents and the biological parents should make it very clear as to the limits and parameters of the relationship before creating this life-long bond.

Are There Disadvantages to a Closed Adoption?

As an adopted child matures, it is very common for them to want to know more about their biological parents. In particular, they often want to ask the birth parents why they placed the adoptee for adoption. In a closed adoption, there will be no way for them to get that information.

The adoptee is not the only adoption triad member wanting information. The biological parents may want to know how the adoption turned out – is the child happy? Healthy? Also, the adoptive parents may want to know more about the biological parents. In a closed adoption, there is no way for the parties to reach out to each other to see if they would like to open up the adoption.

What is a Semi-Open Adoption?

A semi-open adoption is pretty much what it sounds like – a hybrid option, a blend between open and closed adoption. In a semi-open adoption, the biological parents may have some say in the child’s placement. Both sets of parents are allowed to exchange information about one another, but no identifying information is included.

The information usually includes the first names of the parents and the state where they live. This will most likely mean that the adoptive parents and biological parents will not interact in person or at least will not keep in touch regularly.

Adoptive parents may provide the biological parents with information about the child as they grow up, but in a semi-open adoption, the information is passed along through an intermediary (usually the adoption agency, and not directly between the parties.

This is a flexible process, and certain limits can be set based on the parties’ desires. It is important that the adults involved are realistic about the situation and that they keep the child’s well-being as the top priority.

The Adoption Process for Open and Closed Adoptions

Regardless of which type of adoption works best for your family, every adoption case goes through a certain set of procedures in the court system before the adoption becomes final.

It starts when the adoptive parents submit a petition for adoption to the court and pay the required filing fees. The adoptive parents’ lives must be evaluated by a social worker licensed in the state to conduct a “home study.”

The next step is a hearing before a judge. The purpose of the hearing is to verify that the adoptive parents meet all of the adoption requirements under state law. If you have gathered the necessary information when putting together your adoption petition and throughout the adoption process, the hearing should not be a complicated matter.

The judge will likely ask the adoptive parents if they understand the impact of the adoption, including their rights and responsibilities when it comes to raising a child. If the court finds that the adoption is in the best interests of the child, the adoption will be finalized.

Notably, the biological parents are not part of this process.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer About an Open or Closed Adoption?

If you are thinking about adopting a child or about giving up a child for adoption, then it is in your (and the child’s) best interests to consult an experienced adoption lawyer who will be able to explain your options to you and help you navigate the adoption process.

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