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Possible Utah adoption law changes give birthparents more rights

Waiting for an adoption to be finalized can be stressful for those involved. Adoptive parents are often worried that an adoption could fall through, and birthparents sometimes worry about whether or not they will be allowed contact with their birth child after the adoption is finalized.

Current Adoption Laws In Utah

When birthparents choose the adoptive parents with whom their child will be placed, one of the considerations is often whether or not the potential couple is going to allow the birthparents to see and spend time with the child after the adoption has been finalized. Even if the adoptive parents agree to allow the birthparents to visit the child, there is not anything in the law that enforces the agreement made allowing birthparent visitation.

Under current Utah law, a birthparent can give consent to an adoption 24 hours after the child is born. If the adoption goes smoothly and is not contested, the court will finalize the adoption six months after the initial adoption papers were signed. After the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents can then decide who is allowed to come in contact with their child, even if it means breaking the agreement with the birthparents that allowed them visitation. There is nothing that the birthparents can legally do about this sudden disconnect from their birth child.

Proposed Changes To The Law

A Utah state senator introduced a bill that would permit prospective adoptive parents, birthparents or the birth relatives of a prospective adoptive child to enter into a binding adoption agreement. However, if the law passes, it would only apply to adoptions of children in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services.

The purpose of this law is to speed up the adoption process of children who are currently in foster care, with the mindset that if parents were legally allowed visitation, they would be more likely to consent to the adoption as opposed to having to go through the termination of parental rights process.

At first the bill was drafted so that the law would protect all open adoption agreements. After hearing testimony about the positives and negatives of the bill as it was, the senator redrafted the bill, making post-adoption agreements only enforceable in the cases in which a child in foster care is being adopted.

Opposition To The Proposal And Statutes In Other States

Those who opposed the initial legislation allowing post-adoption contracts say the contracts impede the ability of adoptive families to form and safeguard their own relationship with a child as well as safeguard their children from people who are harmful to their development.

Currently, 26 states have statutes that address open adoption arrangements. Many of these statutes allow written open adoption contracts to be enforced. In some of the states, the law applies to all adoptions. In others, the law applies to those affecting children in foster care.

A person who is contemplating adoption should contact an experienced family law attorney. A family law attorney with adoption experience can help the adoptive parent or the birth parent by helping with reuniting biological parents, working with traditional adoption agencies, working with foster care organizations and making sure all of the paperwork and negotiations are handled properly.

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Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law
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