A court’s decision to permit an adoption is absolutely final. This leaves no room for birth parents to step back in should circumstances change. However, that doesn’t mean that birth parents don’t have options for keeping some contact with the child even after another family adopts that child. One viable option is to talk to the prospective adoptive parents about post-adoption contact agreements.
Post-adoption contract agreements only recently became enforceable under Tennessee law in March 2019. Prior to that, the only option available to birth parents wishing to retain contact with their children after adoption was to ask the adoptive parents to sign what the courts have referred to as a “moral agreement.” These moral agreements were not binding. They were essentially just requests to visit the child after adoption. Though they are a nice sentiment between birth and adoptive families, they have no real legal effect. For birth parents who are concerned about protecting their rights to periodically visit with a child—even if the adoptive parents one day object—enforceable post-adoption contract agreements are a safer option.
CONTENTS OF A POST ADOPTION CONTACT AGREEMENT
It is very important that a post-adoption contact agreement be carefully drafted. These agreements can include provisions allowing visitation or communication with the child, sharing of information about the child, or sharing of information about biological parents or adoptive parents. The more specific the terms, the easier the contract will be to follow. To be enforceable in a court of law, the contract must be in writing and signed by all parties to the agreement. That means that there must be signatures from both adoptive parents and any birth parent wanting to benefit from the agreement. If the child in question is 14 or older, they also need to agree to and sign the contract for it to be enforceable.
MODIFICATION OF A POST ADOPTION CONTACT AGREEMENT
A birth parent may not ask the court for modification of a post-adoption contact agreement. Only adoptive parents and the children that are the subject of the agreement are allowed to petition the court to modify a post-adoption contact agreement. This is why it is so crucial that birth parents consider beforehand what kinds of contact they may want; they cannot go back and ask to change the contract later.
ENFORCEMENT OF A POST ADOPTION CONTACT AGREEMENT
Enforcement of a post-adoption contact agreement is a relatively long process designed to get the parties to come to an agreed solution without the involvement of the court. The party seeking to enforce must start by sending the other party a letter telling them what has happened to cause the enforcing party to start the process for enforcement. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, the adoptive parent or parents must take the child to a psychological professional and get an opinion about whether enforcing the agreement is in the child’s best interests. If that doesn’t solve the problem, the parties must attend at least two mediation sessions with a licensed mediator. Only if mediation fails can any party petition the court directly for enforcement.
Post-adoption contact agreements serve a valuable purpose, but they can be very difficult to draft, modify, and enforce. If you need help with any part of this process, the attorneys at Held Law Firm are here to help. Give us a call at (865) 685-4780 to set up an appointment today.
Chelsea Price is a law graduate at Held Law Firm.
Margaret Held is the founding attorney at Held Law Firm.