When two items are attached with crazy glue, they are bonded. Pulling them apart is very difficult. Separation is possible but at some considerable cost. Parts of both sides may be ripped apart. The result is ugly.
“A unique relationship between two people enduring for long periods, even a lifetime.” That is how a dictionary defines bonding. Our definition is more detailed.
Bonding is a significant reciprocal attachment which both parties want and expect to continue, and which is interrupted or terminated at considerable peril to the parties involved. Humans bond, not through therapy, but quite naturally, by sharing over time important events in daily life, such as eating, sleeping, and playing together. Bonding is possible after three months, probable after six, and almost certain after 12 months of living together as a family.
Four specific and definitive criteria for bonding emerge from the current extensive research. They are contained in the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA, 1997) and in one way or another in the Indiana Child Welfare Manual. The criteria are: the length of time spent together, the child’s behavior, reciprocal attachment, and family identification. Other support for bonding comes from brain scans of pre-primary age children that show the rapid growth of relatively permanent synaptic connections.
Bonding matters. Interrupting bonding can be devastating and very difficult to overcome. Statistical research documents a connection between the breaking up of a bond and serious problems in adjustment. The resultant inability to cope with separation and loss in a growing child correlates with significant increases in childhood and adult mental illness, crime, and homelessness. (Kenny and Kenny, 2014)
The lines between blood and bond are clearly drawn when a foster parent files to adopt the child for whom they have provided long-term care, and a heretofore unknown biological relative emerges to challenge the proceeding. How shall the judge weigh the genetic relationship against the parent-in-place?
Many appellate court decisions favoring bonding are available to offer guidance. They include terms like “continuity of care,” risks of transition,” “a father in terms that matter most,” and “significant emotional bond” to explain the judges’ choice.
If and when a bonded relationship is disrupted, significant harm can result. That is why it’s so important to define bonding and know when it occurs. A knowledgeable lawyer can use the bonding argument to make a strong case in disputed adoptions.