November 10th, 2007
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To first look at the statutes that cover post-adoption contact agreements in the state of Maryland, you get a little worried. It seems brief. There aren’t many words. And some other states, like California, were much more wordy! So what does this lack of words mean? Is it completely too vague like Alaska? Or were they able to cover the topic in a minimal amount of words, leaving us with no questions? Well, it falls somewhere in between. Maryland brings a few new things to the table, including one big question at the end!

What may be included in postadoption contact agreements?
Citation: Fam. Law § 5-308

There may be a written agreement to allow contact after the adoption.

An agreement made under this section applies to contact with an adopted person only while the adopted person is a minor.

Well, there’s an interesting bit of information that we haven’t yet seen in our travels through state law! While many states have said that a child age twelve or older can (and should!) have a say in the contact agreement, not one has said what happens when the child turns the magic age of eighteen and thus becomes an adult. Maryland hits the nail on the head and points out that, at that point, the adopted person should be able to make decisions about the relationship on his/her own. Good call, Maryland!

Who may be a party to a postadoption contact agreement?
Citation: Fam. Law §§ 5-308; 5-525.2

The prospective adoptive parent and birth parent may enter into a written agreement to allow contact after the adoption between:

* The parent or other relative of the adopted person
* The adopted person or adoptive parent

An adoptive parent and former parent of an adopted person may enter into a written agreement to allow contact between:

* A relative or former parent of the adopted person
* The adopted person or adoptive parent

Any siblings who are separated due to a foster care or adoptive placement may petition a court, including a juvenile court with jurisdiction over one or more of the siblings, for reasonable sibling visitation rights.

Okay, I’m a smidgen confused but I’ll take a stab at it. What I think we have going on in this particular section is what I complained about a lack of in Louisiana’s law. It seems as though (and Marylanders can correct me if I am wrong) this state is trying to differentiate between domestic newborn adoption and foster-to-adopt situations by using the words “prospective adoptive parents” and “birth parents” in the first half and “adoptive parent” and “former parent” in the second half. I’m gleaning that information from the follow-up to the second section which talks about siblings who are separate due to foster care or adoptive placement. Again, some more clarification on whom, exactly, they are referring to and how they differ would help those who are affected by the laws make sense of the legal mumbo-jumbo!

What is the role of the court in postadoption contact agreements?
Citation: Fam. Law §§ 5-308; 5-525.2

If a dispute as to an agreement made under this section arises, a court may refer the parties to mediation to try to resolve the dispute.

If a petitioner under this section petitions a court to issue a visitation decree or to amend an order, the court:

* May hold a hearing to determine whether visitation is in the best interest of the children
* Shall weigh the relative interests of each child and base its decision on the best interests of the children, thus promoting the greatest welfare and least harm to the children
* May issue an appropriate order or decree

And now we have a state that is setting out a time line of events followed by possible outcomes. While the possible outcomes are rather vague and leave a lot to the interpretation of the judge, at least the outcomes are outlined! First? Mediation for the parties involved. And then if that doesn’t work? A hearing to determine what’s in the best interest of the child. And then an appropriate order or decree based on that evidence. Here’s hoping that the judge involved understands the basis for open adoption!

Are agreements legally enforceable?
Citation: Fam. Law § 5-308

A juvenile court or other court of competent jurisdiction shall enforce a written agreement made in accordance with this section unless enforcement is not in the adopted person’s best interests.

Again, the question remains: how will it be enforced? Are we sending armed forces into a house and demanding that the adoptive family stick with the visitation plan that was set forth in the contact agreement? Are we going to make a public mockery of birth parents who aren’t keeping in contact like they said they would per their contracts? While I’m glad to see that enforcement is available, it’s painfully evident that families need to know the consequences of not owning up to their end of the deal. While not one state (already mentioned or to-be-mentioned) will overturn an adoption based on a neglect to fulfill contract agreements, it would really help keep certain parties on track to know what could happen should they decide not to follow through!

How may an agreement be terminated or modified?
Citation: Fam. Law § 5-308

If a party moves in juvenile court or another court of competent jurisdiction to modify a written agreement made in accordance with this section and satisfies the court that modification is justified because an exceptional circumstance has arisen and the court finds modification to be in an adopted person’s best interests, the court may modify the agreement.

“Exceptional circumstance,” eh? I wonder what qualifies as an exceptional circumstance. I ask only because I’ve recently seen an adoptive mother close an adoption because she felt insecure regarding her role in her (adopted) child’s life. I’m pretty sure being insecure doesn’t fall under “exception circumstances.” I’m pretty sure abuse, verbal or physical, would fall under that heading. Even being under the influence of drugs or alcohol during a visit could be considered an exceptional circumstance. What else? Is an inability to get the other party to participate in contact (birth to adoptive parents or vice versa, as both problems do exist) considered “exceptional,” or is that something that they would consider “the norm?” How long would this lack of contact have to go on before a modification was warranted? What if one judge views something as exceptional and another does not? So many questions are brought up by that phrase. Exceptional questions!

As I said, Maryland hits on a few things that other states didn’t address like the issue of the contract expiring once the adopted person reaches age eighteen. They also attempt to differentiate between domestic newborn adoptions and foster-to-adopt situations. However, they leave us a little confused on wording in that section and leave us with even more questions as to what would actually cause a contact agreement to be modified.

Sometimes I just want to combine the best parts of certain states, don’t you?

For more, read:

1. Post-Adoption Contact Agreements: Louisiana.

2. Post-Adoption Contact Agreements: Indiana.

3. Information from the State Statute Search on in November 2007.

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