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The Rights of Birth Parents in Open and Closed Adoptions

Closed Adoption

Adoption is a practical option when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Many birth parents are unsure about adoption because they don't understand what their rights are.

Having a clear outline that details birth-parent rights in an open and closed adoption can help a person make the best decision for your circumstances.

What is open adoption?

An ‘open adoption’ is a type of adoption that permits a person who has opted for voluntary termination of parental rights to still have some limited access to the child even after the child has been transferred to a new family. It is recommended for this type of adoption that the birth parents should build a strong personal relationship with the adoptive parents to have a continuing relationship with the child.

An open adoption entails that both the birth parent and the adoptive parents have identifying information and contact with each other before, during, and after the adoption process.

Information that identifies everyone involved in the adoption process can include a phone number, physical address, email address, first and last names, and any other information that directly relates to their identification. Contact can happen physically, through emails, over the phone, and with text messages.

Though the idea of an open adoption seems straightforward, each family has the flexibility of defining the adoption process to their own terms.

Some families choose to have adoptive families and birth parents interact frequently through in-person visits, phone calls, or email and text messaging when setting the terms during the open adoption process.

However, every family does not have to have frequent interactions after the open adoption process concludes. The individuals involved can decide whether to exchange contact information in the event that the child decides they would like to reach out to their birth family at a future date.

The terms of each specific open adoption is determined by all parties involved. Once a request is made by either the adoptive or birth parents, the other pair must agree for the communication to be allowed.

For example, if a birth mother wants to speak monthly with the child but the adoptive parents do not agree, they would have to find a solution that both parties agree with.

How do open adoptions work?

Obtaining child custody after terminating your parental rights can be difficult, so you need to know how open adoptions actually work. As explained earlier, the terms of an open adoption depend solely on the people involved and the relationship that is created between those individuals.

Ideally, the potential adoptive parents and the birth parents will spend time getting to know one another before any rights are signed over. They can get to know each other through in-person visits or digital communication.

If the birth parents decide they do not want to sign their parental rights over to the prospective adoptive parents, they have the right to discontinue the open adoption process.

Potential forms of communication for direct communication before and after the adoption is closed include:  

  • Mediated conference calls
  • Exchange of email addresses and phone numbers
  • Personal interaction during the hospital stay and placement process
  • Pictures and letters sent for 18 years after the adoption process ends
  • In-person meeting within the first five years of placement


If the adoptive parents decide they would like to discontinue all contact with the birth parents, they may be able to do so if this was not an arrangement notated in the post-adoption contact agreement.

The process of open adoption follows a series of steps that look like the following:  

1. The birth parents and the potential adoptive parents both decide what they want from open adoption.

2. The birth mother selects an adoptive family after reviewing their profile and deciding they are a good fit for the child.

3. Both parties get to know each other and build a personal connection through pre-placement contact. Either party may decide to not proceed with the adoption during this step.

4. The adoptive parents and birth mother meet in person at the hospital after drafting a hospital plan. The plan outlines how the birth mother would like her labor and delivery experience to go, and her preference for interaction at the hospital.

5. The birth parents and adoptive family continue their relationship after placement based on what is outlined in their post-adoption contact agreement.

What is a closed adoption?

Opposite to open adoption, closed adoption is where birth and adoptive parents have little to no contact with one another. Any identifying information of all parties involved remains confidential.

The first name of each participant may be the only information that is shared with the other. Any other identifying information like last names, addresses, and personal contact information is usually not shared between adoptive and birth parents.

Closed adoptions often do not involve contact after the adoption process concludes, but birth parents can still choose their child’s adoptive family. They can even opt to communicate with them before the adoption to be sure they are the right set of parents to sign their parental rights over to.

People may choose a closed adoption if:

  • Open adoption is too painful to pursue.
  • They want to protect their child from an abusive or dangerous environment.
  • Their pregnancy is a secret.
  • They want an effortless exchange and keeping contact requires effort.


Some challenges the adoptive families and birth parents may face after a closed adoption are self-esteem and identity issues for children and birth parents, lack of medical history and updates, difficulty answering questions about the child or birth parent, emotional challenges for birth parents and child, or missed opportunities with the birth parent or child.

How do closed adoptions work?

The process of closed adoption is like the process of an open adoption except:

  • Communication and interaction are limited.
  • Identifying information is not shared.
  • The post-adoption contact agreement outlines no contact between parties.


Closed adoptions typically do not permit any communication after the child is transferred to the new family. However, it is important to note that with technological development in tracking down a person via social media and/or DNA ancestry tracing, that it can be challenging to keep these adoptions closed if an individual investigates on their own.

As such, the child may be able to identify biological relatives and decide to reconnect with their ancestral family members with some research. Consequently, semi-open adoptions with little communication and open adoptions have become more popular of late compared with traditional closed adoptions.

 In conclusion, a person’s legal rights as the birth parent to have contact with a child in an adoption will depend solely on the type of adoption that is chosen. There are little to no rights in a closed adoption, but if you and the adoptive parents agree to certain terms with open adoption, then any legal rights and access to the child are detailed in a post-adoption contact agreement.

 Keep in mind that child interaction and visitation during COVID-19 with open adoption may be temporarily adjusted for the safety of the adoptive family and the birth parents.


Imani Francies writes and researches for the legal advice site,

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