Decades ago, virtually all adoptions were closed. A closed adoption means that there is no contact whatsoever between the birthparents and the adoptive parents and child after the adoption takes place. In fact, there may be no contact before the adoption. But nowadays, the trend in adoptions in the United States is toward open adoptions, in which all the parties to an adoption meet and often remain in each other's lives.
Closed adoptions are rare in the United States, but remain common in international adoptions and were the norm in adoptions in the past, when families usually used an agency to adopt a newborn. The prospective adoptive family would put their name on a list, and wait for the social worker to make a match. The adoptive parents didn't know where the child came from, or who his or her birthparents were. The child might not have even known that he or she came into the family through adoption.
Even if the adoptive parents and birthparents 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 his or her birthparents are, especially before turning 18.
When adoptions are closed, 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, the process and degree of access to information varies widely from state to state, with some states requiring a court order to reveal information that can be used to identify a party to an adoption.
Increasingly common nowadays is the "open" adoption process, in which the adoptive parents actually meet and usually stay in touch with the birthparents. Most adoption agencies now encourage some degree of openness. As a general matter, these days the birthparents have a voice in choosing their child's adoptive parents. Commonly, the agency gives the birthparents biographies of prospective adoptive parents, and the birthparents pick the family they are most comfortable with. The birthparents and adoptive parents meet, and might be in touch frequently 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 and holidays. 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, and can permit a greater degree of control in the decision-making process. The open adoption process also allows adoptive parents to better answer their children's questions about who their birthparents were, and why they were adopted. Open adoptions can also help the child come to terms with being adopted, because the child's concerns can be addressed directly by everyone who was involved in the adoption process.
There can be downsides to open adoption. Many adoptive parents find the degree of openness to be a threat, fearing that the birthparents will intrude upon their lives after the adoption is over, or even seek to have the child returned to them. Adoptive parent may worry that the child will be confused over who his or her "real" parents are.
Open or Closed Adoption? Let an Attorney Help You Make the Right Choice
Choosing an open or a closed adoption is just one question among many that 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. A skilled family law attorney experienced in adoption cases will be able to set your mind at ease and ensure a smooth process.