Voluntary Post-Adoption Contract Agreements, or “PACAs,” were created to provide a framework for enforceable post-adoption contact between the biological family members of an adopted child, the child, and the adoptive parents. In Pennsylvania, these agreements are created by statute.
There are general terms and conditions to any PACA:
1. It must be approved by the court to be enforceable;
2. Various parties are permitted to return to court to enforce, modify or terminate the PACA (these parties may vary based on the jurisdiction);
3. A finding of contempt against any party to a PACA cannot nullify the adoption.
The parties to a PACA may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but generally include the biological and adoptive parents. The PACA may also include the adoptive child (with certain age requirements), biological siblings of the adoptive child, and other biological relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.
All parties to a PACA must be identified prior to its approval by the court; parties cannot be added to the PACA after the adoption has been finalized.
Most of the parties are identified early in the adoption process; the adoptive child, the adoptive and biological parents. More problematic may be the identification of other biological family members of the adoptive child such as biological siblings. This is especially true if the child being adopted has been in foster care. In these cases, it can be difficult to identify all the parties who have a right to participate in the PACA process.
In many jurisdictions, there is a statutory requirement that, as part of the adoption filing, proof must be provided to the court that all relevant parties have been notified of the availability of the PACA and their eligibility to participate.
A larger question for people involved in an adoption is what type of contact is covered by a PACA? The short answer is whatever type of contact the parties agree to; anything from an exchange of letters and photographs to an annual visit between the child and members of his/her biological family.
The important thing to keep in mind is that any agreement that is made is likely going to be in effect for a number of years. Often, parties to an adoption are tempted to “over-promise” the type of contact they are willing to participate in in order to finalize the adoption. A great deal of thought must be given to whether this level of contact will be as acceptable or comfortable in later years. Another thing to remember is that this decision is also being made on behalf of the adopted child who may not be old enough to make this decision for themselves at the time the PACA is signed.
As discussed above, a PACA must meet all the statutory requirements of eligible parties, notice, and approval by the court in order to be enforceable. All parties must sign the agreement and the court must make a finding that the consents are knowing and voluntary. Above all, the court must find that the PACA is in the best interests of the adoptive child.
The PACA may be enforced in several ways:
1. A Petition for Contempt – This would be filed by one party to the PACA alleging that another party failed to comply with the terms of the agreement;
2. A Petition to Modify – This would be a request to change the terms of the PACA. In many jurisdictions, only the adoptive parents or the child can file a Petition to Modify.
3. A Petition to Terminate – This would be a request to do away with the PACA altogether. Again, in many jurisdictions, only the adoptive parents or the child can file this petition.
A PACA is just one part of an adoption. Adoptions are wonderful, complex and challenging all at the same time. A good family law attorney can make the process much easier for you and your family.
If you have any questions about a PACA or other Pennsylvania adoption issues, call the domestic relations attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson at 800-631-1233.