The Basics

What is post-adoption contact?1

A post-adoption relationship occurs when the Adoptive Parents and Birth Parent(s) maintain ongoing communication after the child’s adoption is finalized. The communication typically ranges anywhere from annual pictures and letter updates to emails, phone calls, text messages, videos, and in-person visits.

What is a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement?

A Post-Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA) or “Open Adoption Agreement” is a written agreement that outlines the type of contact the Birth Parent(s) and Adoptive Parents will have while the child is growing up. A PACA is either a verbal or written informal agreement between the Birth and Adoptive Parents or a formal written contract, which is filed with the court along with the other adoption paperwork. AdoptConnect strongly encourages the parties to enter into a written agreement, regardless of the nature of the contact.

Are Post-Adoption Contact Agreements enforceable?

Although informal agreements are common in adoption, they are not legally enforceable. For a PACA to be enforceable, it must be in the form of a written contract that clarifies the type and frequency of the communication and should be signed by both the Birth Parent(s) and the Adoptive Parents. Even if an informal agreement is in writing, it’s still not necessarily enforceable.

The laws governing PACA’s vary from state to state. State’s laws can differ as to whether or not contact agreements are enforceable as well as who can be involved in said agreements. While some states are silent on the issue, six of them specifically state that PACA’s are not enforceable.2 However, there are twenty-four states that do have laws that make PACA’s between non-relative Birth Parent(s) and Adoptive Parents enforceable.

1 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2014). Postadoption contact agreements between birth and adoptive families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau, pp.1-44.
2 North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Missouri and Tennessee

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That being said, just how enforceable the agreements are varies greatly. You should talk with an adoption professional, preferably your own lawyer, about the specifics of your own state’s laws. In no state may a dispute over a PACA be considered as grounds for overturning an adoption.

What kind of post-adoption contact is the most common?

While there are no set restrictions on what can be included in a PACA (other than it be in the child’s best interest), it is common for the Adoptive Parents to send the Birth Parent(s) periodic photos of the child and general updates. In many cases, the photos/updates are sent more frequently for the first few years of the child’s life and then less frequently (every six months or once per year) thereafter. The agreements may also contain provisions for Skype calls or in-person visits.

Benefits of Ongoing Contact

Ongoing contact provides the opportunity for a child to know their story firsthand, and to develop a deeper understanding of why he or she was placed for adoption. When the child has this information and understands the circumstances that led to his Birth Mother’s decision, he is less likely to make an assumption that he was abandoned by his parents. He will also have a direct source for answers to questions such as: “Why am I so tall?” or “Why do I have bushy eyebrows?” or “Why am I so good at basketball?”

Ongoing contact provides access to important information about your child’s medical history. Even if the Birth Parent(s) disclosed their medical/social history when the placement was made, certain medical issues develop later in life and may not have been known at the time of the adoptive placement.

Ongoing contact is a tangible manifestation of the Adoptive Parents respect for the Birth Parent(s), which in turn communicates something very important to the child: “Your family heritage and biological connections are important. We honor those relationships as a valuable part of your identity and you should, too.”

Current Research

From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections:

This 2012 study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute of more than 100 adoption agencies shows how significantly domestic adoption has shifted to a new model of openness over the past few decades and cites benefits for all members of the adoption triad when there is continued contact between Birth Parent(s), Adoptive Parents, and adopted children.