Cute little boy in dark room dreaming about home and family

How Does Open Adoption Work?

If you are considering adoption, you, like the other 95 percent of women in your position, are likely interested in having a certain degree of openness in your adoption.

And also like those 95 percent of women, you are likely wondering exactly how open adoption works.

Here are some important things to keep in mind about the open adoption process:

Determine Your Ideal Adoption

First, you must determine if adoption is truly a path that you want to pursue. If it is, your next step is to consider what your ideal adoption looks like in regards to your interactions with the adoptive parents and your child.

Ask yourself…

  • What type of relationship do I want to have with the adoptive parents before the adoption?
  • Do I want to meet them in person?
  • Do I want this relationship to last after the adoption?
  • What kind of relationship do I want with my child?
  • Do I want direct communication with my child?

Consider all of the different scenarios with the adoptive parents and your child and what you think you will be most comfortable with moving forward. And remember, there is always another family out there looking for the same type of open relationship as you.

Find Adoptive Parents Interested in Open Adoption

Once you have the ideal adoption in mind, it will then be time to find the ideal adoptive parents who share a similar adoption plan with you.

If you work with an adoption agency to help you find a family, your social worker will ask you some questions to understand the type of open adoption you are seeking. She will then present you profiles of families who are also interested in open adoption.

If you decide to find a family on your own, you will want to make sure they also are seeking a similar amount of openness as you are before agreeing to a match with them.

Communicate with Adoptive Parents Before the Adoption

Most pregnant mothers want to get to know the adoptive parents before the adoption for two reasons: to make sure the adoptive parents are the best family for her and her child, and to make things more comfortable during the time of placement at the hospital.

The time between choosing a family and having your baby is known as “pre-placement,” and is where you may engage with the adoptive family in a number of ways, including:

  • Mediated phone calls with your social worker
  • Non-mediated phone calls
  • Mediated meetings with your social worker
  • Non-mediated meetings
  • Emails
  • Skype
  • Social Media

This is a great time to continue to ask questions to the adoptive parents to get a better feeling of what life would be like growing up in their family. This is also a way for you to keep them involved, including about your doctor visits and the other things going on in your life. And if you feel comfortable, it is even appropriate to share your feelings about the adoption with them, because the adoptive family can absolutely be a great support to you during this time.

Involve the Adoptive Parents at the Hospital

Every pregnant mother choosing adoption should think about what will happen during her hospital stay. This is known as her “adoption hospital plan.”

In an open adoption, you will likely have quite a bit of contact with the adoptive parents at the hospital. If you have more of a semi-open adoption and haven’t yet met them in person, this may be your first time seeing them after months of speaking with them on the phone and through email.

While you may have a comfortable relationship with them at this point, this is still a very personal time in your life. Only you know answers to the questions, such as:

  • Will the adoptive parents be in the delivery room with me?
  • Will the adoptive parents or I hold the baby first?
  • Do I want pictures with the adoptive family?
  • Do I want to leave the hospital with the adoptive family?

So while you may have a great open adoption with the adoptive parents, you still may want this time at the hospital to be private and a time for you to say goodbye, at least for now, to your baby.

Continue Contact After the Adoption

After the birth of your baby, and once everyone returns home, there is usually at least a few weeks of a break in communication to allow everyone to settle in. It has been a long and emotional journey up to this point, and it is common for each party to need some time before re-engaging contact with one another.

If you are in an adoption that just features picture and letter updates, you can likely expect to receive some in the first few months and periodically throughout the rest of the year.

If you are in a more open adoption that features phone calls or even visits, you and the adoptive parents have likely already agreed on a schedule or system of when these interactions will occur. Perhaps you talk on the phone on holidays and birthdays, or maybe the first Sunday of every month. Or maybe you even plan a yearly visit to go see the adoptive family and your child.

The type and frequency of these interactions with one another are usually determined before you chose the family and then finalized once you got to know one another. Thus, there should already be a good understanding between you and the adoptive family about what your relationship moving forward is going to look like.

Can an Open Adoption Relationship Change?

Open adoption relationships are like any other relationships and can certainly change over time. Here are a few examples in which open adoptions can change:

  • You and the adoptive family have a semi-open relationship in which you send and receive emails and pictures. However, over time, you and the adoptive family mutually agree to have a phone conversation and later they invite you to visit them over the holidays.
  • You and the adoptive family agree to a fully open adoption. However, after the adoption takes place, you have second thoughts and decide having personal visits with them and your child would make it too difficult for you to move on with your life.

There are also a few examples of ways in which an open adoption relationship cannot change, such as the following:

  • You and the adoptive family have agreed to a semi-open adoption in which you will receive picture updates of your child twice per year. After the adoption, you decide you want visits with your child. Unless the adoptive family agrees to it, you will not be granted visits with your child because it wasn’t agree to during your match with the adoptive parents.
  • You and the adoptive family agree to a fully open adoption, but after the adoption the adoptive parents decide they don’t want an open adoption. This scenario is rare and the adoption agency will have to step in and enforce the adoptive parents to honor their open adoption commitment.

Are Open Adoptions Legally Enforceable?

Usually around the time you select a family and agree to follow the same adoption plan, you will enter into a verbal post-adoption contact agreement. Some adoption agencies even ask adoptive families to sign a non-legal document, promising that they will honor the types of contact they agreed to share with you.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia do permit legal and enforceable post-adoption contact agreements. Each state uses various language to describe their state-specific post-adoption laws.


As you can see, open adoptions are very fluid relationships and almost always change over time. And for as many benefits as they provide, there are clearly many challenges as well.

So, if you are wondering how open adoption works, continue researching this topic, talking with your adoption agency, and thinking about what type of adoption relationship will help you best manage this next chapter of your life.

And remember that this is your adoption plan. If you are considering adoption and have a specific type of open adoption relationship in mind, always remember there is another adoption family out there hoping for the same one with you.