Open adoption contact agreements

What are they and should they be legally enforced?


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Open adoption is often the most misunderstood term in the adoption world today. For potential adoptive parents, it can be a scary idea because you may think having any kind of relationship with a birth family leads to confusion about who the parents are, or worse, the possibility of the birth family taking the child back.

The reality of open adoption is that it can mean anything from sending letters and pictures to having a relationship where you get together and talk often. It doesn’t mean that birthmothers are threats – rather a relationship with them can be great for you and your child.

For more on open adoption, check out the blog post I wrote about it here.

So what are open adoption contact agreements?

The agreements are post adoption arrangements that allow contact between the adoptive family and the birthmother, or other members of the birth family. They are meant to make sure everyone involved is clear about the type of contact (letters, pictures, videos, visits, etc.) and how often the contact is made (once a month, once a year, etc.).

The contact agreements are meant to provide whatever is in the best interest of the adopted child. Many adoptions – especially infant adoptions – have some sort of verbal agreement rather than a written one.  

Adoptive couples ultimately have the right to decide who will have contact with their adopted children, however in an open adoption it is important to talk with the birthmother about the post adoption contact. 

Adoptive parents should consider that their relationship with the birth family will take some time to develop. Often times the birthmother and/or the adoptive parents may change their mind about the type and amount of contact they would like.

Can (and should) the agreements be legally enforced?

Adoption contact agreements can be written to provide a way to make it legally enforceable. Currently, there are 26 states that allow legally enforceable contact agreements, but these are generally only for children over a certain age (in many cases at least 2 years old) or in the cases involving step-parents and relative adoptions.

There is an online petition to the U.S. House of Representatives to introduce a bill making open adoption contracts legally enforceable. The petition gives some rather weak arguments for why the agreements should be enforced.  

It says, “While most birthparents go into the adoption aware that the adoptive parents have the right to change the agreement at any time, not all are informed. And while many adoptive parents have every intention of fulfilling their end of the agreement, too many fail to follow through with the commitment once the adoption is finalized.”  

It goes on, “I am asking that adoptive parents be held to the openness they promise birthparents prior to adopting their children, and to require legal action and valid cause for concern for the child’s well being to close an agreed upon open adoption.”

I have several problems with this petition…  

1. It says that “too many” adoptive parents fail to follow through with their end of the agreement.

Says who? I would love to see the statistics that show this to be true – because I don’t believe it. In my experience, I find that most adoptive parents WANT to keep their end of the agreement because they want the birthparents to know they made a great choice.  

Adoptive parents feel that keeping their commitment to the birthmother is the least they can do for them. They also find that having some sort of relationship with the birth family is good for the child and good for everyone involved – so making a sweeping statement that “too many” fail to follow through is just ridiculous.

2. Holding either the adoptive parents or the birthparents legally responsible for the agreement would cause unintended consequences.

How can the government or an adoption agency, or for that matter how can anyone force a relationship to happen? Does anyone think that by forcing people to do something, it will make them happy about it?  

There are so many variables – what if life changes for either the birth family or the adoptive family, so the original agreement didn’t work anymore? For example, if the birthmother got into trouble with alcohol and therefore was is no condition to visit the child. Yet the written, enforceable contract says that she must have visits. How can this be in the best interest of the child?  

The Child Welfare Information Gateway (a U.S. government site) has some good information about open adoption contact agreements. They have a downloadable report that lists every state’s laws about contact agreements. Check out the report at:

What do you think?
I’d love to hear from you – if you have any experience with open adoption contact agreements – or what your opinion is. Enter your comment below or send me an email.

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