Post-Adoption Contact Agreements
Many adoptive parents and birth parents enter into Post-Adoption Contact Agreements (PACA) outlining the contact they will have with one another after the child is placed for adoption. While some adoptive parents may fear that a request for a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement reflects the birth parents’ lack of commitment, experience has shown that such agreements often provide birth parents with the peace of mind they need to move forward with their plan. Having a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement provides the birth parent with reassurance that he or she will always have the right to obtain information about the child. That ongoing contact, in turn, typically reassures the birth parent that they’ve selected the best family for their child.
While there is no typical format for Post-Adoption Contact Agreements, the purpose of such an agreement is to set forth the nature of the contact (letters, emails, telephone calls or in-person contact), the frequency of that contact, and the number of years the contact will continue. Once the birth and adoptive parents agree to the terms of the Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, the agreement must be approved by the court. The judge will only approve the agreement if he or she decides that enforcing the agreement will be in the best interest of the child. Once the agreement is approved by the court, and the adoption is finalized, the birth parents and adoptive parents have the right to seek court enforcement of the agreement. This means that if the adoptive parents refuse to honor the terms of the Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, the birth parent has the right to go to court to seek enforcement. While the adoptive parent(s)’ failure to comply with the Post-Adoption Contact Agreement can never be a basis for setting aside the adoption decree, the court has the power to hold the adoptive parents in contempt if they refuse to honor the agreement. The court also has the authority to modify or set aside the Post-Adoption Contact Agreement if it finds that continuing the contact between the birth parent(s) and child is not in the child’s best interest.
While Post-Adoption Contact Agreements are legally enforceable in a number of states, this is not always the case. If you live in a state where Post-Adoption Contact Agreements are not legally enforceable, you may still wish to enter into a “Good Faith Agreement.” Good Faith Agreements have the benefit of clarifying everyone’s expectations regarding the nature and frequency of post-placement contact. Crafting the Good Faith Agreement provides birth and adoptive parents with the opportunity to think through, discuss, and document their expectations regarding post-placement contact. The attorneys will also incorporate those expectations in a written document. This serves to minimize or eliminate misunderstandings regarding the nature of the post-placement relationship. Even though Good Faith Agreements are not legally enforceable, the importance honoring the Good Faith Agreement should never be minimized and the agreement should be treated with the same respect that an enforceable agreement would receive.
Adoptive Parents and Birth Parents entering into a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement must strive to keep the child’s needs at the center of that process. Since it is impossible to anticipate the child’s ever changing needs, it’s a good idea to build some flexibility into the agreement. Ultimately, the child will have his or her own opinions regarding post-adoption contact and the grown ups’ needs must always bend to the best interests of the child.
Laws governing Post-Adoption Contact Agreements vary across the country as can be seen in this state by state summary. Given the complex mix of legal and emotional issues you’ll be encountering, you will be well served by speaking with an attorney with expertise in adoption who can guide you through this process. See our directory to find an adoptive attorney.