The traditional concept of adoption, supported by endless melodramatic stories on television and in films, is one of anonymity: The child “given up” by the mother and raised without knowing they are adopted. Becoming more common today is an “open adoption” which has various meanings. An open adoption could mean that the child’s status is not kept secret and could include provisions to keep the birth parent or parents involved. This may occur when relatives of the natural parents are the adoptive parents or when a former spouse gives up his or her parental rights in favor of the new spouse. Adoption agreements may significantly limit the natural parent’s involvement. Oft times the natural parent may be limited to being provided progress information and photographs of the child on a periodic basis or designate a time when the child will be informed of his natural parents(s), etc.
Many families attempt to define boundaries and parameters in an “Adoption Agreement” or “Kinship Agreement.” This can be either a verbal or formal written contract that sets out acceptable levels of contact and involvement for the birth parent(s) and attempts to head off potential conflict. Sometimes these are formally filed with the court; sometimes they are merely signed by both parties in good faith.
Like any other agreement, care should be taken to make the agreement evolve along with the real-life situation.
Representation/Mediation in Open Adoption
Whether for the first time or when an agreement needs to be advised, the parties can avoid problems by using a qualified attorney to represent their interest to address necessary matters. If a conflict arises, the early use of the mediator could avoid litigation, costs, parents being cut off, or the minor being subject to the conflict, causing harm to the child’s well-being. When both sets of parents enter into mediation with the best interests of the child in mind, they can be guided by a trained, professional mediator towards a solution that is healthy for all involved – especially the child. Mediation by its very nature keeps the lines of communication open, which is what a Contact Agreement is designed to do in the first place, and helps to identify the reasons why the agreement no longer works. Often, this means that each side understands the other’s difficulties clearly for the first time, and the sense of familial bond that inspired the Open Adoption in the first place returns.
Mediation isn’t a “magic bullet” that solves all problems – but for Open Adoptions that are founded on the concept of honesty and connection, it is often the best solution.