Voluntary Post-Adoption Contact Agreements and Their Enforceability

October 13, 2017
By John Scialabba
Posted in Adoption

Voluntary post-adoption contact agreements are legally binding “contact” agreements that are made between birth and adoptive families. Such agreements govern the contact between the child and his or her biological relatives after the adoption is final. In order for a post adoption contact agreement to be legally enforceable, it must be approved by the Pennsylvania court in which the adoption is finalized.  A court will approve such agreements only if all parties, including a child over the age of 12, agree on its provisions, and if the court finds the agreement is in the best interest of the child. The different types of contact parties can agree to in a voluntary post-adoption contact agreement include letters, photographs, and emails. For more intimate contact, such agreements can include phone calls and visits with the birth family.

These agreements, however, remain legally binding on the parties so long as they continue to be in the best interest of the child. Once a court concludes that a voluntary post-adoption contact agreement no longer serves the needs, welfare, and best interest of the child, the agreement will be terminated. 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2739.

23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2739(b) states in part that the standard for discontinuing a voluntary post-adoption contact agreement is that a court “must find by clear and convincing evidence that a discontinuance serves the needs, welfare, and best interest of the child.”

This framework was evidenced earlier this year in the Matter of Adoption of C.A.F (Not Reported), where the birth mother and adoptive parents originally had implemented a voluntary post-adoption contact agreement which stated that the birth mother was to have four supervised visits per year with the two children, C.A.F and J.D.C. Subsequently, one year after the agreement was implemented, the adoptive parents petitioned the court to discontinue the agreement, or, in the alternative, have the court modify the agreement to include fewer visits per year. At the evidentiary hearing, the adoptive parents provided evidence, through expert testimony, that C.A.F.’s continued contact with birth mother would be detrimental to the child’s mental health. In adopting the trial court’s opinion, the Superior Court stated that the child’s needs, welfare, and best interest was to terminate the parties’ voluntary post-adoption contact agreement. The Court further found that the continuing visits for the other child, J.D.C. and not C.A.F., would be “very confusing for the (two) children” and “would instill feelings of resentment” between them and, therefore, found that both of the children’s needs, welfare, and best interests would be best served by terminating the voluntary post-adoption contact agreement in its entirety.

Adopting a child is an amazingly rewarding experience, yet, any prudent parent should be concerned with who potentially has perpetual contact with their child or children. If you are in a situation where you are considering signing a voluntary post-adoption contact agreement or concerned about the overall effects that one is having on your child, please reach out to John C. Scialabba and the adoption team of Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky at jscialabba@smgglaw.com or (412) 281-5423.