Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 16, 2020

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Open adoption means that a birth parent and a child may continue to have contact, even after the birth parent gives her parental rights to the adoptive parent or a child will have the right to know who his or her biological parents are. Open adoption may be a formal legal agreement that is part of the adoption decree, or it may be an informal arrangement between the adoptive and birth parents.

Adoption Rules

The rules regarding adoption vary from state to state, but generally, both of the birth parents, if both are known, must give up their parental rights entirely. The adoptive parents become the legal guardians/parents of the child and have full rights to that child. In some open adoption agreements, however, the birth mother or birth parents retain visitation rights as a condition of the adoption.

An open adoption, if it is to be a formal legal arrangement, generally must be arranged by the birth parents and adoptive parents at the time of the adoption proceedings. Both the birth parents and adoptive parents must agree to the conditions of the open adoption. The agreement set into place may be very specific, signifying exactly what rights the birth parents will have, or it may be more general and just indicate that the child will know about his or her birth parents and be able to have some contact with them.

In other cases, open adoption is simply a decision that the birth parents and adoptive parents make together and there is no legal agreement in place. This is riskier for the birth parents, as once they have given up custody and the requisite waiting period for the state has passed, they will no longer have any parental rights nor any right to compel visitation should the adoptive parents not agree to it at a later date.

Getting Help

Making a decision on whether to have an open adoption or not is difficult and important. You need to have a legal advocate on your side to help you make the best choice and protect your rights.