Georgia House Representative Mary Margaret Oliver introduced a bill in February 2013 that would, if passed, make post adoption contract agreements in Georgia legally binding. Her interest in initiating this bill stemmed from Judge Michael Key, out of Troup County, who’s experience in the courts led him to believe this would be beneficial.The interest in this bill has been immense, and since it was first introduced, has caused lively discussion in the Georgia adoption community. There have been avid supporters, as well as some staunch opposition. At this stage, HB 21 is in Senate Rules Committee, awaiting approval for a Senate vote. If it passes the Senate, HB 21 will be erected into law.
The Independent Adoption Center is an active supporter of HB 21. We believe that having a legally enforceable post adoption contract agreement, also known as open adoption agreements, is favorable to the adoption triad.Research has already proven that open adoptions are in the best interest of the children of adoption and having a legally enforceable post adoption contract agreement solidifies the concept of open adoption. The children of open adoption benefit from having people in their life who care about and love them. They will know the love that went into their adoption plan when they see that their birthparents and adoptive parents cared enough about them to make a plan in writing about having contact for the next 18 years. The birthparents of open adoption benefit from the healing and comfort that ongoing contact often brings. The adoptive parents of open adoption benefit from the comfort and knowledge that their child will have ongoing contact with their birthparents and that the birthparents have agreed to continue that contact. While adoptions are built on trust and honesty, having a legally enforceable post adoption contract agreement will comfort the triad in knowing that loss of contact, without just cause, will not be tolerated.
Not only do legally enforceable post adoption contract agreements benefit the triad, they also benefit the agencies, attorneys, and counties that provide adoption services. Agencies such as the Independent Adoption Center, who specialize in open adoption, receive some validation and protection in the work we do. It essentially recognizes the foundation of the work we perform in the eyes of the law. For other entities that work in adoption, and open adoption, this law will also offer them the same benefits. In cases where the county is involved in the adoption, there is a great possibility of increased rewards. If birthparents who have children in the foster system could be given the option of staying in their child’s life, with a guarantee of the law on their side, they would likely be more willing to voluntary terminate their rights rather than having to go through the pains of involuntary terminations, which also affect the children they are trying to protect. In cases in the foster system, this also is logical since the child likely had contact with one or both birthparents prior to removal, and very likely had been having ongoing visitation as their case has progressed in the system. Cutting ties involuntarily and immediately upon birthparent termination could have detrimental affects on the children, as well as on the birthparents.
There are currently 26 states that have a similar statute on the books. There is a rising interest on the part of birthparents to choose adoptive families who will be finalizing their adoption in one of these 26 states so they are ensured their best interests are protected. If Georgia signs this bill into law, we will be helping prospective Georgian adoptive families by being able to offer this to their potential birthparents.
It is important to know that having a legally enforceable post adoption contract agreement cannot be contingent on placement of a child through adoption. Birthparents cannot be promised contact if they decide to place. It is a separate acknowledgement that comes with the adoption and can be decided on before or after birth. If contact is not upheld, the adoption cannot be overturned. The party that feels the agreement is not being upheld may file a motion in the court to have the agreement reviewed and case heard. If there is just cause for lack of contact, it would be discussed at that time with a judge overseeing the dispute. If the agreement needed amended, it could be done so at that time with the help of the courts, a mediator, agency, or attorney. A judge could also refer the case to mediation before being heard in a court of law.
It is also important to note that legally enforceable post adoption contract agreements are optional. If an entity does not want to offer this as part of their services, they do not have to. If any party of the triad does not want to participate in the agreement, one does not have to be done. It is only for those adoption entities and members of the triad that want a legally enforceable post adoption contract agreement. These agreements can even be helpful for a triad that prefers a closed adoption. This could be documented in the agreement and filed with the courts so there is no confusion or claim of a promise of contact that is not being upheld.
HB 21, a proposed bill for legally enforceable post adoption contract agreements in Georgia, would offer the citizens of Georgia a great service. It offers protection, healing, and comfort to the adoption triad as well as validation and options to adoption entities. It is hopeful this bill passes the Senate and enacts into Georgia law.