It will come as no surprise to you to find that biological parents rights after adoption are complicated. For good reason, it can be difficult to both relinquish parental rights and to adopt. The decision to choose adoption is a life-altering event. It can be absolutely beautiful but it requires a great deal of sacrifice on everyone’s part to make it work. The largest sacrifice required of you will be the most difficult one, the sacrifice of control. That could be said of anyone involved in adoption but it is easily the most difficult for the expectant parent who is making the choice to lovingly offer his or her child a future with another family. There is no one answer to what the biological parents’ rights after adoption are because it varies from state to state. What the law states in Oregon will be different in Texas and different in Pennsylvania. That is the nature of laws and lawmakers. To say that adoption law is complicated is to drastically understate the facts. What is true in my state will likely be different in yours in regards to timelines, foster care, states rights, etc.
However, the overarching consensus is that after an adoption is finalized it is final. The biological family in many cases will not have any rights regarding the child they have relinquished. This allows the adoptive family to be able to make important decisions for the child regarding their medical needs, schooling, and religion without the biological parent’s input. In other words, biological families will not have any rights in most cases. The adoption is legally irreversible after the allotted time period (set by the state). The child is entitled to all rights and privileges that a biological child of the adoptive couple would have. Some of this dates back to when adoption was considered a shameful thing. An unwed mother was considered unfit by all parties and the history of her was erased from records both for her sake and the sake of the child and their adoptive family. Maternity homes were less places of refuge and more places for hiding until the shame of pregnancy had passed. While there can still be a stigma surrounding pregnancy, it is much less taboo. Open adoptions where biological families have a degree of access to their biological child is becoming the more prevalent type of adoption and the shame that used to revolve around unwed mothers has dissipated immensely.
Unless it can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the adoption was performed illegally, parental rights will not be transferred back to the biological parents after finalization. Adoption lawyers and caseworkers spend a lot of time making sure that they have all of their ducks in a row. There are exceptions to every rule and the biggest exception is if a biological father did not want the child to be adopted and his name was intentionally left off the birth certificate for nefarious purposes. In that case, a lawyer could intervene but it would need to be within a reasonable amount of time.
In every state, there is a set amount of time after a birth parent has signed over parental rights to the adoptive parent or parents that a mother can rescind her consent. This is to prevent a mother from having been coerced after giving birth. She will likely feel vulnerable, exhausted, and undoubtedly in a lot of pain. It could be said she was not in a correct emotional place to make such an important life-altering decision. In the case of infant-matched adoption, a birth mother may have anywhere from 3 days to 30 days to change her mind after she has given birth with no legal repercussions. After that, however, the decision is irreversible.
During the adoption process, it should be discussed between the expectant mother and potential adoptive parents what expectations there are for the future. This will alleviate confusion as the child grows older and begins to understand he or she is adopted. A contract with expectations can be drawn up. This may be referred to in the adoption decree. Open adoption should not be confused with shared custody. It is not the same. Every interaction with the child after the adoption is finalized is at the discretion of the adoptive family.
Be aware that in some states, visitation, even if stated in the adoption decree, can not or will not be legally enforced. Adoptive families typically have the most rights post-adoption. Should they decide that the biological parents are making unsafe choices (such as extreme drug or alcohol use, criminal activity, etc) they can terminate visits without warning. Also, if the biological family is unreliable and causes the adopted child emotional trauma, adoptive families can terminate contact. This may feel unfair, but it is about the needs of the child and protecting that child. Sometimes when a biological parent does not come for a visit, the child may become upset at his or herself and think that he or she is bad or unlovable. Neither the biological nor the adoptive parents want the adoptee to feel that way.
The level of openness in the adoption has to do with each person’s level of comfort. At minimum with an open adoption, a letter and a few pictures a year may be sent to an agreed-upon place to update biological parents of the child’s milestones. Some biological parents elect to use a p.o. box or the adoption agency office for these interactions. Some families choose more involvement including inviting the biological family to family events. Birthdays, holidays, and family vacations can include both biological and adoptive families. I have a sweet friend whose adopted daughter’s family visits and stays for a week to catch up. They are considered family. Some biological and adoptive parents may find this level of involvement to be too much, but it is possible if both parties desire it and work towards it.
Biological parents rights after adoption are very few. A biological parent hoping to reverse an adoption will need a lawyer who is able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the adoption was made illegally or under duress. Barring that the adoption will be final and the adoptive parents will have sole control over the child until he or she is a legal adult.
Biological parents’ rights after adoption are being questioned more today than they used to be, especially the rights of biological fathers. If an expectant mother signed consent for adoption and did not list the father but the father did not consent to the adoption, he could intervene with the help of a lawyer.
Because of the permanency of adoption, it is important to make sure that you as the expectant parent consider your choices before you sign papers. As I said, your rights are limited and mostly at the mercy of other parties, not yourself. You will need to consider the fact that you may not see your child for a long time. The adoptive parents are free to move about the world for work or pleasure without your consent. They may forward you their new address, but they might not have to. This can be difficult, but it is not illegal and your rights at that point have not been infringed upon. It is not within your rights to demand access to your child despite your desire to do so. It is not within your rights to visit your child at school or daycare without the adoptive parents’ consent. Furthermore, doing so could damage your relationship with the adoptive family and the adoptee. At the end of the day, accepting and respecting your new position as a birth parent is essential in moving forward in a positive direction.
You may be on the other side of the coin. Perhaps you want no part of the child;s life after finalization. Whether it is for personal reasons or a decision based on your mental and emotional needs, this is completely acceptable and your choice. Rest assured in that regard, you can feel safe. If you refuse contact, you do have the right to remain relatively anonymous until the child is 18. At that point, they are an adult and can seek you out, but you have no legal obligation to them and you are welcome to politely tell them you wish to have no further contact. It is possible to word the adoption decree in such a way that you can convey that you do not wish to have any contact. Legally, that cannot be denied to you. However, for the sake of your child, it would be helpful to disclose any family history of diseases or chromosomal abnormalities that could affect him or her later in life. Information about biological medical history can help save a life later down the road. If you don’t know that information, perhaps including information about the next of kin who can be questioned would be a kindness.
If biological parents rights were terminated voluntarily, they have more say in what will be included in the adoption decree. They can negotiate visitation, photographs, phone calls, etc.
If biological parents rights were terminated due to abuse, neglect, or inability to parent, the adoptive parents will typically be less likely to continue to have contact with the biological parents. Adoptive parents will now be responsible for the child financially, medically, spiritually, and emotionally for the rest of that child’s life.
In my experience as a foster parent, I have seen biological parents attempt to demand rights that they are no longer entitled to. It is damaging to the children, the adoptive family, the foster care system, and ultimately the biological parents themselves. I cannot begin to put myself in the position of an expectant mother who is trying to decide what is best for her child after birth and coming to the adoption decision. I would hope that the adoptive parents I chose would want to include me in my child’s life through pictures, phone calls, Skype visits, or playdates. All of that is possible in a healthy open adoption relationship.
However, we do not live in an ideal world and the truth of the matter is that as an adoptive mom of a closed adoption, I feel selfish regarding my children’s’ love. I already know that they feel torn. There is a biological parent that they do not know or do not know well and then there is me. Because they do not know the biological parent, it is easy for them to fantasize about who they might be. In my humanity, I can find myself becoming jealous. My children’s biological parents had their rights terminated on the basis of being unfit. We had them as foster children first. However, as I have matured and have read and learned more, I am realizing the importance of a child having a link to their biological family and their past.
I have worked to make sure we have conversations that do not reflect negatively on the kids’ biological parents so that when they are older they can make decisions about them for themselves. Hopefully, when my kids are older their biological parents will be both emotionally and physically healthy enough to be safe for my children to be around. Unfortunately, the court ruled that that isn’t the case right now. I think the most important takeaway from this is to not make any decisions lightly. The repercussions will be lifelong and after the final judgment is made, the adoption is finalized.
Learn more about creating an environment for a healthy, open adoption in “Six Ways to Create a Healthy Open Adoption” and “How Does Open Adoption Affect Members of the Adoption Triad?”