A closed adoption definition is simple enough in legal terms, but there are complexities that you may want to consider when deciding whether or not a closed adoption is right for you, your child, and your child’s future.

Closed adoption is when the adoptive family does not have any contact with a child’s biological family; they may not have any knowledge of one another whatsoever. Often, it can also mean that the birth records are sealed. Usually closed adoptions are chosen to preserve privacy for all parties involved. Birth families do still have the right to choose an adoptive family for placement. If the birth family is using an adoption agency, anonymity is easier to preserve than if an independent adoption is used for the placement plan.

Closed Adoption Definition: Brief Background

Closed adoptions were commonplace for years beginning around the 1950s, but have steadily declined in recent decades and are actually quite rare for most recent placements in the U.S. An original goal of closed adoption for birth mothers was that they would get the chance to remain anonymous and, therefore, could continue life after placement without negative social stigmas associated with unwed pregnancies. It was also seen as an advantage for the child. When records were sealed, as with any adoption today, new birth certificates were issued as though the adoptive parents were the natural parents of the child; this practice was also to protect against negative social stigmas that the child may face as they grow.

Slowly, though, sealed adoption records became increasingly difficult to gain access to. Even when adoptees became adults, they were having to secure court orders to receive their prior birth records. This could be a costly process for adoptees. Organizations that are advocates for adoptees began to speak out about the potentially discriminatory process, claiming that no other American had to go through such trouble to get their original birth certificates. Many states have recently passed legislation that allows adoptees access to previously sealed documents once they come of age, but that legislation is not retroactive, so some adoptees may still have to have court orders to obtain their original birth certificates.

Closed Adoption Definition: Scenarios

International Adoption: Often when adopting a child internationally, an adoptive family will not receive information about their child’s biological parents or, at most, very little. In this scenario, an adoptive family may get to know a resource or two connected to your child in the country of origin, such as your child’s social worker. They will be able to offer some information about your child’s interests and milestones and can help you fill in some gaps in your child’s story before they reached your family.

The well-being of the child: Some scenarios require a closed adoption to maintain the safety of the adoptee. If there are biological family members that are unsafe or unstable, it would be in the child’s best interest for their adoptive family’s contact info and names to be withheld from the biological family. If the child was placed with a family because of prior abuse, a closed adoption will also allow that child to feel safe and secure that their biological family cannot contact them. Some birth mothers may choose a closed adoption to protect their child from a spouse or partner that may be violent or if the child was conceived from a sexual assault. As these children grow into adults, it will be their decision alone to unseal their records, if that is what they desire.

A Desire for Privacy: A birth mother or birth family may choose a closed adoption as a way to prevent difficult and painful communication with the adoptive family and adoptee. Getting letters in the mail with pictures may feel comforting to some but may fill others with grief. Maintaining privacy with closed adoption can assist some biological families with the ability to move forward after placement. For the adoptive family, the privacy of a closed adoption may allow them to parent freely without feeling interference or judgment from a biological family. The privacy of a closed adoption may also advantageous if there are prejudices present anywhere in the adoption triad based upon race, religion, gender, or sexuality.

Closed Adoption Definition: Legality and Reality

Legally, you may have a closed adoption. Many states do not currently have “open” or “semi-open” adoptions as a legally binding contract, but rather they are closed adoptions with informal, verbal agreements to continue an open relationship with informal boundaries decided on by both parental parties (adoptive and biological). Although this may be a closed adoption in the courtroom, it could be considered a semi-open adoption if pictures and letters were shared through a third party, usually an adoption agency or a social worker.

My husband and I actually have open adoptions with both of our children’s biological families, but the lawyers representing each of us were very clear that our state does not have any legally binding open adoptions, so it is up to all the parties involved to maintain contact. The reality is that our family could choose to close those relationships and there would be no legal course of action available for our children’s biological families to take to keep those relationships open. Our lawyers made sure we all understood that we were committing to maintaining openness, but those commitments and boundaries were not recognized in a court of law. Legally, we have closed adoptions for both of our children, but our reality is a very open relationship with both families that include social media interaction, contact information, and a visit or two a year.

Closed Adoption Definition: Pros and Cons for the Triad

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of a truly closed adoption for each party in the adoption triad (biological families, adoptive families, and the adoptee)?

Biological families:

Pro – As mentioned before, privacy is a large reason to choose a closed adoption. Getting letters in the mail or an unexpected text when you are out and about with friends or family may feel jarring. A closed relationship means you don’t have to face that unexpected contact. You can know that contact with the child you placed will happen only if your child is an adult and makes the decision to seek you out. For some biological families, knowing your child is with a family that loves them is all the peace of mind they need to move forward.

Con – A closed adoption may mean that you don’t receive any updates. You may not know what your child looks like or how his or her life is progressing. As time passes, you may feel more and more unsure about how your child feels about you and the reality that they were placed with an adoptive family. For some biological families, the birthdays and holidays passing year after year are reminders of the child, not present. This mixture of emotions (both peace and grief) can be difficult to cope with.

Adoptive Families:

Pro – Raising a child today can be complicated for typically formed families. The choices a parent faces can often be scrutinized by the society around us: Do I use kangaroo care? Should we co-sleep? Do we do baby-led weaning? Should I let them cry it out? How do I discipline? What nutrition do I encourage? How do we discuss controversial social issues? These are decisions that can feel heavy with judgment as the outside world is looking in, but they can feel even more weight if you feel the eyes of a biological family looking on in an open adoption. As you make difficult decisions for your child, you may worry that your child’s biological family regrets choosing you as the adoptive family, or that they disagree with your parenting techniques and personal beliefs. Those feelings can all be avoided with a closed adoption.

Con – In closed adoptions with sealed records, there may be many questions that an adoptive family will never get answers to. You may not know if there are genetic medical conditions that run in the family. You may not be aware of mental health issues that are possibilities for your child. Your child’s natural interests and talents that are biologically grown may not be easily uncovered. You may not be able to identify with some of your child’s personality traits. When you have a more open relationship with a child’s biological family, there are parts of your child that you can see and understand more clearly because you can see connections to their birth parents.


Pro – For adoptees, the privacy between their biological family and their adoptive family can be complicated. One benefit for adoptees that are adopted as infants is that there is no confusion about who their family unit is as they grow. The adoptive family is the only one they have known. It is important to note that even this small advantage quickly dissipates if an adoptee finds out when they are much older than they were adopted. Keeping adoption a secret from a child is incredibly detrimental to their sense of identity and familial security. If the adoptee is coming from an unstable situation caused by their biological family, a benefit for them with closed adoption is safety and security, but there will still be many questions that the adoptee will have about the circumstances that brought about their adoption.

Con – The disadvantages for an adoptee in a closed adoption are numerous and complex. Adopted children are going to have many questions about their identity and where they came from. They may ask questions about their biological family relationships: What were the circumstances of my birth parents? Why did they choose adoption? Do they have any other children or family members? Does my birth family want to know me? Do they care about me? Adoptive parents’ responses to these questions are going to forever fall short for adopted children because, in a closed adoption, they can only guess and make inferences to these questions. Even if an adoptee chooses to search for his or her biological family when they become an adult, the answers they find may still be unsatisfactory. Children with open adoptions can ask questions throughout their adoption journey and hear responses directly from their birth families in some cases, fulfilling that desire to know directly and immediately.

In closed adoptions, adoptees often have questions about who their mother and father were. They want to know their interests and personalities. They want to know which birth parent they look like, who they sound like, who they act like, who they think like. Not getting the answers to these questions can create scenarios where adoptees feel alone, as though they don’t know who they truly are without someone in their adoptive family that relates to them. Having an open adoption may not solve these hardships completely, but the adoptee may potentially be able to see and hear their biological mother and/or father and get to know them and their personalities and interests. As they see similarities between their biological families and themselves, they may feel like they are carrying on a legacy of identity and have a sense of belonging.

Closed Adoption Definition: Adoptees Opening the Door

When an adoptee is 18, they will then have the chance to choose for him or herself whether they want their adoption story to continue to be closed. There are a variety of ways nowadays that can open the door of a closed adoption. In today’s society where everything is a Google search away, an adoptee has many avenues: unsealing birth records with a court order, genetic testing with DNA ancestry companies, Googling names and dates, searching for names and locations on social media, or hiring a private investigator. Navigating the search and reunion after a closed adoption can be a roller coaster ride. Reading and listening to stories of reunions can also assist in helping an adoptee decide whether or not they are ready to open the door on their closed adoption.



Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.