Family Law

Open Adoption and Closed Adoption: What Is the Difference?

By Melissa Heinig, Attorney
Learn more about adoptions that allow continuing communication with birth parents.

When you’ve made the decision to adopt—either as birth parents or prospective adoptive parents—one of the most difficult decisions you'll make is whether to participate in a closed or open adoption. Both sets of parents need to consider the pros and cons of each type of adoption and agree on the path they all want to follow.

What Is a Closed Adoption?

Traditionally, a closed adoption involves a birth mother giving up her child to an adoption representative, without knowing anything about the child’s new parents. For adoptive parents, they must complete an application, place their name on a long list, and wait for an agent to match them to a child.

After a closed adoption, there is typically no communication between the birth and adoptive parents during the child’s life. Both sets of parents exchange limited identifying information, and the adoptive parents receive the child’s medical information— but that is the extent of any details provided. Once the adoption is complete, the agency seals the adoption record and it remains confidential.

Although closed adoption has become less common, it's still available to couples who wish to follow these strict rules of confidentially. This may be the best option if adoptive parents don’t want the child to know about the adoption or the birth parents, or if birth parents want to remain anonymous for any reason.

How Does Closed Adoption Work?

Both sets of parents will make the individual decision about moving forward with a closed adoption, and the adoption agency will match families with the same desires. Once the agency makes a match, the two families will work directly with the agency. The agency will draft a contract that describes the adoption expectations for both sides. It's essential that you read and understand each section of the contract. If there are any sections you don’t understand or agree with, tell your adoption representative. It's highly recommended that parents hire an adoption attorney to review the contract before signing. Once everyone signs the contract, the adoption process will continue until it is complete.

What Is an Open Adoption?

If parents want an adoption that allows contact with the other family, an open adoption may be the best option. Open adoption encourages birth parents and adoptive parents to communicate with each other before, during, and after the adoption and allows birth parents to continue to receive updates throughout the child’s life. Many times, the birth parents and adoptive parents become friends through this process, which can be a tremendous benefit for the child.

What are Some of the Benefits of an Open Adoption?

An important benefit of an open adoption is that the adoptive parents can have some level of involvement during the pregnancy and birth of the child, which provides the opportunity to have a more intimate role from the beginning of the child’s life. Additionally, the adoptive parents may share phone calls, visits, or photographs of the child with the birth parents as the child grows. These benefits may also extend to the child, who doesn’t have to grow up with unanswered questions about the birth parents or why the birth parents chose adoption.

How Does an Open Adoption Work?

In an open adoption, adoptive parents often complete a portfolio that the adoption agency presents to birth parents. These portfolios can include:

  • names and other personal details of the family
  • photos of the family
  • details about the family’s financial situation
  • the family’s reason for adopting, and
  • anything else the family believes the birth parents would want to know.

After the agency presents the birth parents with these portfolios, the birth parents will choose a family to adopt their child. Once a match is made, the adoption agency works with the birth parents and the adoptive parents to work out the following details:

  • specific expectations for communication before, during, and after the adoption
  • the extent of involvement wanted by both sets of parents, and
  • the expectations for visits and phone calls after the adoption is complete.

Regardless of the type of adoption you choose, it’s important that all parties ask an attorney to review any contract from the adoption agency.

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