Imagine that, in their excitement before the birth of the baby, adoptive parents tell the birthmother “Get in touch anytime.” They are thinking about receiving a few emails while she interprets “anytime” to mean monthly visits. These very different ideas about open adoption can cause anger and disappointment on both sides.
It is scenarios like this that point to the need for written agreements, which provide concrete expectations and boundaries. Contact agreements are legally binding in many states. But, even in states where these agreements are not technically binding, some courts enforce them anyway. As a result, families need to think carefully about what they agree to and be sure that it is something they can live with for the next 18+ years. An adoption cannot be overturned because of either party’s failure to comply. However, if mediation becomes necessary, families have the right to say whether compliance with any of the conditions in the agreement is in the best interest of their child.
The written agreement should specify the type and frequency of contact in the baby’s first year and in later years. Usually the birthmother wants more frequent contact during the first year when she is grieving. It’s a good idea to specify the minimum amount of contact the parties will have over the years. For example, if the agreement includes face-to-face contact, discuss the number of visits, along with the duration and location of each visit. It’s a good idea to also include how special occasions will be handled. Does the birthmother want to visit at the child’s birthday or Christmas and bring gifts? Is the adoptive family OK with that?
If the adoptive parents and birthparents develop a good relationship prior to the adoption and trust each other, they can work out minor issues over the years without the necessity of a court getting involved. Good communication will be more important in the long run than any written agreements.