Open and Closed Adoption in N.C.: What You Should Know

Today, the typical adoption in the United States involves some degree of openness. However, open adoption in North Carolina means different things to different people. It is important to be clear about what you intend.

So, what is open adoption?Parker-and-Twins

The best way to understand open adoption is to start with what it is not. It is not the stereotypical placement that is shrouded in secrecy. It is also not the made-for-television movie where the birth parents become members of the adoptive parents’ extended family.

Instead, at its most basic level, having an open adoption means that adoptive parents are going to know the name of the biological mother and she is going to know the adoptive parent’s names. Beyond that, deciding how much information is shared is a mutual decision.

Information Sharing in Open Adoption

Most domestic adoptions in the United States involve at least the sharing of identities. If you select an open adoption in North Carolina, you may have the opportunity to choose the other party involved in the adoption, whether it’s a prospective birth mother or adoptive parents. Many adoption agencies and matching services will give you information about these people to make your decision easier.

If you’re a prospective birth mother, you will have the chance to get to know prospective adoptive families through some kind of “adoptive family profile,” whether that be a letter from them, a description of their lives and family history or a video profile. The honesty of this open adoption communication will give you a better idea of just what kind of family your baby may grow up in. For example, if you specifically want your baby to grow up in a two-parent household with an older sibling and dog to play with, you will likely be able to select a family that meets those desires.

On the other hand, if you’re a prospective adoptive parent, open adoption gives you the chance to get to know a potential birth mother and her family/medical history before placement. Whether or not you will ultimately get to choose a birth mother will be up to your adoption agency or matching service, but most of these organizations will let you choose what kind of history you’re comfortable with regarding the race of your adopted child, the mother’s alcohol and  drug use during pregnancy, her medical history and the situation with the biological father.

Communication: Before, During and After Placement

Having an open adoption may also mean having communication before or after the adoption or both. The extent and duration of communication varies widely. This will be determined by the open adoption agreement you create at the beginning of your adoption journey, which will lay out the level of communication both parties are comfortable having as the child grows up.

Following an open adoption placement, some families choose to exchange letters and pictures through an intermediary, usually an agency or lawyer, even though they have never met. Other adoptive and birth families socialize at least regularly. Most open adoptions lie somewhere in the middle, exchanging letters, pictures, phone calls, texts, connecting on Facebook and having face-to-face meetings once or twice a year.

But one of the benefits of open adoption is the ability to communicate with the birth parents or adoptive parents throughout the adoption journey — not just after it’s complete. As mentioned before, you may have the ability to choose the birth or adoptive parents you go through the adoption journey with and, after you are matched, you may have the chance to meet them in person to make sure the match is a perfect fit.

Many prospective birth parents and adoptive families communicate during the time leading up to the adoption. Not only is this a way to get to know each other before the adoption is completed, but many families find this communication is a great way to build lasting relationships that will make the adoption easier for all involved.

A strong relationship will also come in handy during the birth of the child. In many open adoptions, the adoptive parents will be present for the baby’s birth, whether in the delivery room or waiting in the hospital. Open adoption gives both the birth mother and the adoptive parents the chance to create a hospital plan, which will include everything from who holds the baby first to who will spend time with the baby in the hospital. For many adoptive parents, the chance to be involved in their child’s birth is an invaluable memory.

Again, the level of communication and openness between both parties of the adoption process will vary based on their own agreed-upon preferences. Whether or not a postadoption contact agreement is legally enforceable depends on the state laws involved, which is why it can be so instrumental to have a positive open adoption relationship that does not depend solely upon legal repercussions to be held up by both sides. It’s also a reason why you should consult experienced legal professionals before creating any sort of communication agreement.

Whether or not your postadoption contact agreement is enforceable, we can help you draft an agreement of expectations as part of our legal services. Even in states in which agreements are not enforceable, setting out those expectations in written form is often helpful in avoiding painful misunderstandings that can put the adoption at risk.

Open vs. Closed Adoption in N.C.

Even though open adoptions make up 95 percent of all adoptions completed today, you do have the choice of a closed adoption in North Carolina if you use an adoption agency.

A closed adoption is what the word implies — no information is shared and there is no contact or communication between the birth parents and adoptive parents. These kinds of adoptions are more typical of the past, when adopted children had no knowledge of who their birth parents were or what their adoption story was.

For some prospective birth and adoptive parents, a closed adoption seems like the “safer” choice. They may see their closed adoption records as a fresh start. Prospective birth parents may also think that by protecting their identifying information and preventing themselves from future contact, they’ll be able to move forward from their adoption choice quicker. Every situation will differ, so when someone chooses a closed adoption in North Carolina, there may be several reasons why.

However, there are some disadvantages to closed adoptions:

  • No access to medical or family history. Not only is this a danger if an adopted child has any medical issues, but the adopted child may have questions about their birth parents and birth family. Without any truthful answers, the child may have difficulty when they begin to form their self-identity, as being an adopted child will be a large part of that.
  • Few birth mothers desire a closed adoption. Many pregnant women will only choose a family that is comfortable with open adoption, so by choosing a closed adoption as an adoptive family, you are restricting the adoption situations available to you.
  • A closed adoption is difficult to reverse. While a closed adoption may seem preferable when an adoption is first completed, adoptive parents and birth parents may find themselves desiring a more fulfilling relationship with each other later as their feelings and emotions change. However, it’s incredibly difficult to open up an adoption that has been closed, so if you choose a closed adoption, you should be 100 percent confident in your decision.

Open adoption, on the other hand, provides many advantages to prospective birth parents, adoptive parents and adopted children:

  • Open adoptions can change. If you choose an open adoption, your levels of communication can change over the years as you decide what you’re comfortable with and what kind of communication you need. If you have a solid relationship with the other party of the adoption, this change in the level of communication will be much easier, especially if you want to increase it again later on.
  • The adopted child will know about his birth family and adoption story. In addition to the medical benefits provided by knowing medical history, knowing their family history and being able to ask their birth parents questions can help adopted children better understand their own adoption — and respect their birth mother for giving them their best chance. For many adopted children, their birth parents take on the role of close family friends, rather than parents, but having that familial history can make the adoption journey for an adopted child much easier.
  • The birth parents will get to know their child. No matter what level of communication there is between birth parents and adoptive parents, an open adoption allows a birth parent to watch their child grow up through photos, letters and even visits — helping eliminate the “what if” questions that may plague a birth parent in a closed adoption.

Adoption agencies can also offer by law a third type of adoption – a “semi-open” adoption. In “semi-open” adoptions, the birth parents and the adoptive parents can meet on a first-name basis but, over the years, any contact made is not direct but done through the agency. “Semi-open” adoptions may be appropriate if one of the birth parents struggles with addiction or mental health issues which may make respecting boundaries difficult.

For more information on the options you have for open communication in an adoption in North Carolina, please give us a call at 919-821-1860 or contact us online.