A post-adoption contact agreement allows a biological parent to keep in touch with a child even after terminating parental rights and giving the child up for adoption. Parties to an adoption, i.e., the adoptive parents and biological parents, have had the ability to enter into voluntary PACAs since 1996. However, these were unenforceable under state law. In other words, a biological parent who felt the adoptive parents had failed to fulfill the agreement had no legal recourse.
However, a new bill authorizing enforceable PACAs passed unopposed through both chambers of the Tennessee legislature last year. It took effect immediate after the governor signed it into law on March 22, 2019. The purpose of the new law is to allow biological parents to pursue legal actions against adoptive parents who do not live up to their agreement. At the same time, the law provides protections to the rights of adoptive parents.
What does an enforceable PACA do?
An enforceable PACA allows adoptive parents to enter into an agreement granting visitation rights to either or both biological parents, as well as any “legal relative” per the Adoption Code’s definition. In addition to visitation, the scope of an enforceable PACA can also extend to sharing information about the parents, whether adoptive or biological, sharing information about the child or providing contact with the child.
What are the limitations of the new law?
The new law takes two important steps to preserve and maintain the parental rights of the adoptive parents. First, the consequences of violating a PACA do not involve a change in the adoption status. In other words, the adoptive parents will not see their child taken away or their parental rights terminated as punishment for violating an enforceable PACA.
Second, only adoptive parents have the right to modify an enforceable PACA once it goes into effect. This is because they bear the responsibility for pursuing the child’s best interests. Under no circumstances, however, can a biological parent request a modification to an existing enforceable PACA. The law expressly forbids this.
However, the law does not mandate that parties to an adoption enter into an enforceable PACA. It also does not restrict the ability for the parties to enter into a written agreement that remains unenforceable.