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Understanding the Legalities of Closed vs. Open Adoption in North Carolina

Overview of Adoption in North Carolina

Adoption is a legal process that creates a new, permanent parent-child relationship where one did not exist before. In North Carolina, as in other states, adoptions can be classified into two main types: closed and open adoptions. Each type has distinct legal implications and procedures that prospective adoptive parents must understand before proceeding.

Closed Adoption: Privacy and Confidentiality

In a closed adoption, the identities of the birth parents and the adoptive parents are kept confidential. The records of the adoption are sealed, and the adopted child typically has no access to their birth records or any identifying information about their biological parents. This type of adoption was historically the norm, with the intent of allowing both the birth parents and the child to move forward with their lives without intrusion.

However, closed adoptions have become less common over time as attitudes toward openness in adoption have shifted. Some argue that closed adoptions can lead to identity issues for the adopted child, and many states have enacted laws to allow individuals to access their original birth certificates upon reaching adulthood.

Open Adoption: Transparency and Connection

Open adoptions, on the other hand, involve varying degrees of communication between the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the child. This can range from an exchange of letters and photographs to face-to-face meetings. Open adoption agreements may be informal or legally binding depending on the circumstances and preferences of those involved.

The trend toward open adoption reflects a growing recognition of the benefits of maintaining connections with biological family members. It's believed that such openness can help children develop a stronger sense of identity by understanding their background and medical history.

Legal Considerations in North Carolina

In North Carolina, both closed and open adoptions are legal options for families. The decision largely rests with the birth parents and adoptive parents, who must agree on the level of openness they are comfortable with. It is essential for all parties to understand that once an adoption is finalized in court, it is legally binding regardless of whether it is open or closed.

Adoptive parents in an open adoption may choose to enter into a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA), which outlines agreed-upon terms for ongoing contact between the child and their biological family. However, PACAs are not enforceable under North Carolina law unless certain specific criteria are met.

For both types of adoptions, it is crucial to work with experienced attorneys who specialize in family law and understand North Carolina's specific requirements. They can help navigate the complexities of the process, ensuring that it complies with state laws and respects the wishes of all parties involved.


Understanding the legalities of closed versus open adoption in North Carolina requires careful consideration of privacy concerns, emotional implications, and legal requirements. Prospective adoptive parents should seek counsel from knowledgeable professionals who can guide them through this life-changing process with compassion and expertise.