Guest Author - Karen Ledbetter
Some adamantly supported it, while others were strongly opposed. Both sides brought up some very good points to ponder.
Those supporting legally enforcing open adoption agreements appear to do so out of concern over hopeful adoptive parents promising birth moms the sun, moon, and stars, only to appear to drop off the face of the earth after receiving their babies. Proponents feel that legally binding open adoption contracts will protect birth mothers from being taken advantage of by adoptive couples who make promises they have no intention of keeping. If such documents exist, then adoptive couples would be required to keep their promises or face legal consequences.
Most of the moms that I spoke with are opposed to legally binding open adoption agreements. They all feel that there are far too many variables and changes in everyday life that would make such agreements unrealistic over a period of years. Each mentioned specific reasons unique to her family, but the bottom line remained the same—too many variables.
Even if open adoption agreements are legally enforceable, who would do the enforcing? Are you willing to have your son’s birth mother arrested if she misses a letter or is late with a birthday present? What if she accidentally misaddresses a box of Christmas gifts? Are you really going to call the cops on her? Are you going to be arrested for forgetting a monthly update letter to your 3-year-old’s birth mother, even if your child is hospitalized with pneumonia?
What if—after the adoption—one of the birth parents makes unhealthy choices or is convicted of a crime such as assault, murder, domestic abuse, or child abuse? Would you really want to knowingly place your child at risk just for the sake of a contract?
Several families stated that over the years, as birth parents (birth mothers, in particular) matured and began busy lives with families of their own, contact has gradually lessened. Of course, this is a totally different issue, but perhaps it’s because for some birth mothers, once they’re assured that their child is happy, loved, and well cared for, then these particular birth mothers no longer need ongoing contact. Should a birth mother that chooses to decrease contact over a period of years face criminal prosecution?
What about moving? I know of one birth mom who, over the past 10 years, has lived in Wisconsin, Chicago, and now Arizona. Should the middle-income adoptive parents of her child be obligated to travel with their child all over the country just because she chose to relocate? What if neither family can afford such travel expenses? Who picks up the tab? Will the adoptive parents be arrested if they don’t take a trip that they cannot afford to take?
What would happen when an adoptive parent, no matter the reason, missed a letter, visit, or phone call? A fine? Jail time? Removal of children?
What if the child decides that she does not want contact? Should a relationship be forced on the child anyway? If your 12-year-old son requests that you not send his latest soccer photo to his birth mom, should you respect his wishes?
While I understand concern over adoptive parents making promises they do not keep, I truly do not think legally enforceable contracts are the solution. An adoptive mom friend with two open adoptions says it best: Legislating sounds wonderful in some ways but if I were required to, I would not adopt nor opt for openness. Openness should be an option available to all parties, not required.
So, what do you think? Should open adoption agreements be legally enforceable no matter what?