What are some drawbacks to open adoptions?
For some people, going through an open adoption means feeling like you have to share your child. This is true even though the child that you adopt will become your legal child and the parental rights of the biological parents will be terminated. An adoptive child has the same legal status as a child who would have been naturally born to you and your spouse. There is no distinction between adopted children and naturally born children in the Texas Family Code. However, some parents get the impression that because they chose to adopt through an open adoption that the experience of parenting is somehow less authentic or natural because the birth parents of the child are still a part of that child's life.
If you choose to go through with adoption through an open adoption process, then you need to consider that the child who you will be petitioning to adopt will have their family going through the process with you. Your family and the biological family will interact with one another regularly. Depending upon the age of the child that you will be adopting there may be some difficult emotions for the child to process. If the child that you will be adopting is of a certain age he or she must consent to the adoption and a potential name change, as well. All the while, you may feel like your child is still more so a part of the biological family that he or she came from rather than your family unit. In many ways, these would be natural feelings for you to consider and cycle through.
What you and the biological parents can do is work together to communicate these concerns rather than worry about them to a degree that is unhealthy for you and your family. In family law, so many of the issues that people encounter, whether they be in marriage, co-parenting, or in situations involving adoption can be sorted out through communication. Not everyone is a good communicator. However, all of us can try to communicate well for the sake of our families. In a situation where you are trying to build your family from the ground up, it is especially the case that you need to be able to remember to communicate first instead of making assumptions that can be harmful to your family.
To the extent that communication is necessary between you as an adoptive parent and the biological parents of the child you will be adopting, it is necessary to consider that there also has to be some degree of sharing of information between you and your adoptive child's family. Your adoptive child's biological family will likely learn information about you and vice versa. For instance, the adoptive family learning where you live may not seem like an issue now but what if the relationship sours at a later stage of the adoption? In that case, you are in a position where the adoptive family knows where you live and where their biological child lives. Even though the parental rights of the biological mother and father will be terminated that doesn't mean that they will not feel some degree of attachment to the child. This may be a concern that you need to guard against or simply not engage in an open adoption if the concerns prove to be insurmountable for you to overcome.
From the perspective of the biological parents, open adoption can be tricky because they are opening themselves up to the prying eyes of you and your spouse. In some cases, the biological parents have made poor decisions in their life and you are now in a position to "rescue" a child from a bad situation. Do not underestimate how awkward and even humiliating this can be for a biological family. Hopefully, the family would have considered this possibility before engaging in an open adoption but it is possible that they had not. You should be wary of stepping on the toes of a family that is not willing to move forward with open adoption. If there are warning signs at the beginning of the process of the family not working well with you then that is something you should discuss with your attorney, your adoption agency, and with the family.
How does the aging process impact families involve in an open adoption?
As with all families, the members of your family and that of your child's biological family will age. The needs of your family will change over that period- most notably with your child. If you adopted your child as an infant, then there is no telling the changes that you will experience with your child. Being the parent of an infant is different than being the parent of a toddler, child, adolescent, or teenager. You cannot expect that your life will remain static simply because that will help you maintain relationships either. Rather, you will see that your life will change dramatically over time. Not due to any reason but because that’s how life goes. Some of those changes will be good and some will be not so good. All you can do is prepare yourself for those changes and help guide your child through them as best as possible. This is what being a parent is all about.
While we have been discussing the changing needs of your family and your child specifically, nothing has been said about the needs of your child’s biological family. Just as your family will experience changes over time, so too it is likely that your child’s biological family will experience changes as well. They may have no more children, or they may have a dozen. They may keep up with your child closely and attend events and extracurriculars that your child is involved in. Or they may touch base with your child only infrequently. There is no way to tell from your initial interactions with the child's biological family how that will work itself out. I'm sure that you have friends whom you were very close to at one time but have grown apart as your lives have changed. This isn't anything personal, but rather is just a reflection of the changes that we have been discussing here. You will always consider that person a friend, but the nature of the friendship must evolve. In one season of life, you and that person may be very close friends. In another, you all may grow further apart.
Throughout the different seasons of your life, you and your child's biological family must stay in communication to make the open adoption work out the way you want it to. Minimal disruption for your child and the biological family. You don't want to come off as a bull in a China shop but at the same time, you want to make sure that your needs are being addressed by the process. This is a delicate balance to strike. Being assertive is one thing but being overbearing is another. You can communicate your way through this issue with your counterparts by discussing how they like to be communicated with, what time of day works best for a phone call, and other seemingly mundane issues like this. Do not assume what works for you as far as communication is concerned will necessarily work best for them.
This type of interaction between you and the biological family will set you up well for the time after the open adoption has completed itself. There is no requirement that you go out for dinner regularly with the child's biological family. You do not need to necessarily invite them to every activity or have them over for dinner regularly. You have the same conservatorship rights to your child as any other parent in Texas has about their child. It is presumed that you are acting in your child's best interests no matter what your actions are- unless challenged otherwise.
So, what that means is you need to be able to focus your energy on raising your child and not necessarily put the needs or wants of the biological family at the forefront of your child’s life. We just finished talking about how the different seasons of your and your child’s lives may allow for more interaction while other times may allow for less interaction. That’s ok. The foundation that you lay during the time of your adoption is key to adapting to change. There will be adoption orders that set the tone for how your child and the biological family will communicate. However, you still need to look out for the best interests of your child. If the nature of the relationship becomes disruptive to your child at a certain point, then you need to determine to adjust that relationship.
You should trust your instinct as a parent. You do not need to allow interaction or other communication to occur over time because you feel obligated. If something feels "off" then there is probably a very good reason for this. Hopefully, the two groups have established a level of trust and a rapport that allows for you two to communicate your way through these issues. The biological family may have an agreement with you to allow for interaction regularly but if the needs of your child change, or your child don't want that interaction any longer, then this is something that you need to discuss with the biological family.
What is a semi-open adoption?
A semi-open adoption is one where some contact occurs between you as the adoptive family and the child's biological family. However, instead of having direct communication between the two groups, there is usually a third party that helps to facilitate the conversations so that they are more productive. An adoption attorney or an adoption agency can act as this third party between yourself and the biological family. The third party will help the two groups with how many contacts there will be between the two groups and the degree to which communication will occur and the methods of communication that will be employed.
Keep in mind, however, that your situation is unique so what works for another family may not work for yours. If you are interested in a semi-open adoption, then you need to be able to understand that the adoptive family and you will set the tone for how many contacts there will be and the degree to which the contact benefits your child. For instance, you will be able to send photos and updates about school and other activities involving your child after the adoption is over, but it will occur between yourselves and a third party who can help to make sure the communication efforts are favorable and productive.
For many families, this is about as much contact as they would prefer with an adoptive family. Keep in mind that no matter how in favor the biological family is as far as having the adoption go through, that doesn't mean that the family will have no emotional attachment to the child. They may feel better about giving their child up for adoption when they can have some degree of contact with the child moving forward. However, in-person contact may be too much for them to handle from an emotional standpoint. To that extent, a semi-open adoption may work best for all parties since in-person contact is rarely part of the equation.
Boundaries are an important part of all relationships. We all know someone who has a person in their life who is a habitual line stepper. The classic example of this is the mother-in-law who can’t quite handle boundaries being set by their child and their spouse. No matter how clear the children are about boundaries, the mother-in-law will take it upon themselves to step over those boundaries to voice an opinion or do something else that is unwelcome by the married couple. That mother-in-law doesn’t realize that she is no longer the mother of a child. She is the mother of an adult. That is an awkward transition for many people to walk through. The same could occur regarding your relationship with your biological parents.
Hopefully, your child's biological parents will have appropriate boundaries. The fact that they are interested in a semi-open adoption is a good indication that they do have good boundaries set up. However, if they do not it may be a sign of what is to come. You should be clear with them about how you see the relationship developing over time and whether you think a match will work between your family and theirs. Unfortunately, if you are adopting a child in a semi-open adoption, you are welcoming their biological family into yours at least to a certain extent. Remember this as you negotiate your way through the adoption and remember to have a certain level of grace and appropriate boundaries with the family.
What are the basics of a closed adoption?
Protecting the privacy and safety of the family involved with the adoption is one reason why closed adoptions appeal to so many. As opposed to open and semi-open adoptions a closed adoption allows for the two sides to the adoption to remain in their separate corners and instead focus on what is necessary to make the adoption proceed smoothly. There is no expectation of contact with the other side either during the adoption or in the time after the case is over.
For example, if the biological family has issues that they would prefer to be kept confidential a closed adoption may be the option that appeals to them more so than not. This is also true for you and your spouse as you may not want them to have information about where you live, where you work, and details about your plans for the child if you were to want to move, for example. For the biological family, closed adoption is a good way for them to do something good for the child after perhaps not making such good decisions for most of their life. The biological family may not want to have direct contact with you and your spouse, but they may concede that adoption is the best possible avenue for a good life for the child. Many families feel guilty about giving a child up for adoption even if the adoption is a responsible choice considering all the different options available for a family. You can allow the closed adoption process to shield the biological family from shame or guilt while you can take on the awesome responsibility of raising a child.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.