Open Adoption and Post-adoption Contact Agreements
Open adoption means different things to different people. At FCCA, we encourage the parties in a voluntary adoption to communicate and agree as to how "open" they want to be with one another.
In most voluntary placements, the birth mother (and sometimes the birth father) personally selects the family from a written profile. After the match has been confirmed, the birth parent often chooses to meet the adoptive family in person, and/or communicate with them via email or telephone. So most voluntary adoption plans are at least somewhat open prior to signing of adoption consent forms. Before the birth parent signs those consent forms, any agreement for future contact should be spelled out in writing, so it can be filed with the court as part of the adoption.
Typical post-adoption contact agreements state that the adoptive family will share pictures with the birth parent(s) several times per year, such as holidays and birthdays. Occasionally the parties agree to meet in person once or twice a year for the first two or three years of the child's life. Click here for a sample post-adoption contact agreement for a voluntary adoption. Keep in mind that this can and usually is modified to suit the needs of each specific case.
Post-adoption contact is usually not appropriate or safe for children whose birth parents' rights are being involuntarily terminated by the juvenile dependency court due to abuse or neglect. However, contact with some birth family members, such as siblings, grandparents, or non-offending parents, may be not only safe but very healthy and positive for the child.
In those cases, the adoptive family is usually offered the opportunity to speak with a mediator trained in fos-adopt contact agreements. That mediator will attempt to work out a written agreement between the family members. Except in cases involving children with Native American heritage, the fos-adoptive family is almost never required to agree to post-adoption contact as a condition of adopting the children.
Once a post-adoption contact agreement has been filed with the court, it is a legally enforceable contract between the parties. If one party fails to live up to the agreement, the other party must first seek mediation, and may then request the court to intervene. Depending on the best interests of the child, the court may choose to enforce, modify, or terminate the post-adoption contact agreement.
For many would-be adoptive families, the idea of an open adoption is scary. However, after they have met the birth parent(s), the great majority of adoptive families are happy to have some level of openness and realize that there is nothing to fear. FCCA encourages adoptive families and birth parents to keep an open mind about open adoption. When it is handled with compassion, sensitivity, and honesty, some level of openness can be a great blessing for all.
Legal sources: Family Code Section 8616.5