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Are Open Adoptions Legally Enforceable?

Open adoption can bring people together in a beautiful way—a child can have a lifetime of love and opportunity, birth parents can build a unique and special bond with their child, and a two hopeful parents can create the family they have always dreamed of being.

At American Adoptions, we advocate for open adoptions due to the many benefits of openness in adoption, and connect birth parents and adoptive families who are excited about open adoption. You can get help starting your open adoption by calling 1-800-ADOPTION now.

While open adoption is legally enforceable in some cases, state laws vary on the subject, which is why we have created this guide explaining whether open adoption agreements are legally enforceable, how state laws protect adoptive children, and how you can get started on an open adoption.

What are Open Adoption Agreements?

Open adoptions are adoptions that plan for continued contact between birth family and the adoptive child and family after the adoption is finalized. Open adoption agreements, also called Post-Adoption Contact Agreements (or PACAs) are agreements made between birth parents and adoptive parents that formalize the contact plans.

Open adoption agreements can plan for contact in the form of letters, pictures, emails, phone calls, or visits, and can evolve over time depending on what is comfortable and safe for everyone (birth parents, child, and adoptive family).

While open adoption agreements can be legally enforceable in some cases, they are not custody agreements or an agreement to co-parent. Adoptive parents have full legal rights and responsibilities as parents of the adoptive child after an adoption is finalized.

Are Open Adoptions Legally Enforceable?

Open adoption agreements are sometimes legally enforceable depending on the state you live in and your situation. While state laws can change, approximately half of the U.S. states have laws that make open adoption agreements enforceable, and roughly half of U.S. states prohibit or don’t protect open adoption agreements.

How Do State Laws on Open Adoption Protect Adoptive Children?

Research has shown that there are many benefits to open adoption, especially for the child. Having knowledge of his or her background and understanding their adoption story may help children build their identity and will ensure they are not surprised by secrets. In cases where it is possible, knowing that birth parents are around and care can also enrich a child’s life.

States that make open adoption legally enforceable often have created laws with this knowledge. However, even in states where open adoption is legally enforceable with an agreement, in some cases judges can void the contract if contact with birth parents is not in the best interest of the child. This can happen if a situation becomes unsafe or unstable and may have a negative effect on a child, as determined by the legal system.

In states where open adoption is not legally enforceable, it is left up to adoptive parents to decide what is in the best interest of the child once adoption is complete. In these states, adoptive families and birth parents can still make “good faith” written agreements themselves or with the help of an adoption agency, and many families are excited to follow through with these agreements. However, these agreements are not legally enforceable. This means that adoptive families can decide whether to continue contact with birth parents on behalf of their adoptive children.

When these informal open adoption agreements are used, an adoption agency can still take steps to connect birth parents and adoptive families, and if adoptive families don’t follow through with the agreement, the agency may bar the adoptive family from adopting again with their agency.

Is Open Adoption Legally Enforceable in My State?

Since open adoption is legally enforceable with an agreement in some states but not in others, it is best to contact a legal professional to find out whether open adoption agreements are legally enforceable in your state. Our adoption specialists can help you understand your legal rights and connect you to legal help if you are interested in adoption. Click here to get help now.

How Can I Find an Adoptive Family Committed to Open Adoption?

If you are a birth parent who is considering adoption, you should know that there are many adoptive families who are excited to have an open adoption. Even if you live in a state where open adoption agreements are not legally enforceable, many families are committed to following through with the agreements they make with their child’s birth parents.

American Adoptions only works with adoptive families who agree to open adoption— you can view adoptive families who are interested in open adoption or learn more about adopting a child.

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. American Adoptions provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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