When birth and adoptive parents agree to maintain communication after placement, they enter a post-adoption contact agreement. The best agreements are very specific, promising a certain amount of photos, updates, and visits per year. They spell out what to expect one, five, and fifteen years down the road. If you are considering entering one of these agreements, here are six things you need to know.

Adoption contracts are not custody agreements.

When a birth parent places a child for adoption, they relinquish any and all parental rights. The contract is for photos, updates, and visits only. Having an open adoption agreement in no way means co-parenting.

They are not legally enforceable.

In the vast majority of states, post-adoption contact agreements are in no way legally enforceable. Adoption agencies are not law firms, and they cannot hold adoptive parents to the agreement of openness. They can contact the adoptive family and request the photos or visits that went undelivered, but they cannot force it. Some states do allow legally enforceable openness contracts. However, even in a court of law, the most a judge can do is order the agency to contact the adoptive family and request the contact. There are no serious legal consequences to breaking an adoption contract. However, if an adoptive parent breaks a contract they entered into through an agency, that agency may discontinue providing services to that family, including facilitating further adoptions.

Birth parents can choose not to keep the agreement of openness, and can discontinue it at any time without legal consequences.

Contact agreements can be discontinued.

Entering into a post-adoption contact agreement is a leap of faith on both sides. It is not uncommon for either birth or adoptive parents to discontinue visitation, with or without reason.

In the case of legal contracts, if the adoptive family believes that a birth parent is a danger to the child, they can appeal to their agency and/or the courts to cancel the contract. If they can prove that continuing contact would jeopardize the safety of the child, they will no longer be held to the agreement.

Everyone with an open adoption should have a post-adoption contact agreement.

Even though they are not binding, it’s important that there be a concrete understanding between birth and adoptive parents as to what they can expect as far as openness. Simply saying “Yes, the adoption will be open” when you are matched is not enough. Open means different things to different people. For some, openness means going to one another’s houses whenever they like. For others, it means a once yearly photo. It is so important that both parties be on the same page to avoid feelings of hurt and betrayal.

Adoptive parents should avoid making too many promises.

It is incredibly common for an adoptive family to make an agreement they believe they can keep, only to find themselves in over their heads after placement. Even if they can keep their commitments short term, they often don’t think of how their life will look down the road. What will happen when the child grows older? What if one party or the other moves away? A good rule of thumb is to under-promise and over-deliver. What is the bare minimum you can provide? Only promise that much. A birth parent will hold on to your promises, and breaking them will break their trust and their hearts. If you can do more contact than what you promised, then by all means do so.

Reassess your agreement regularly.

To maintain any healthy relationship, communication is vital. Sit down together every few months or years and discuss your agreement. What is and isn’t working? Does the agreement need to change? Sometimes life circumstances change and the agreement will need to be adjusted, and that’s okay – as long as both parties are clear on what to expect.

If you are looking into a post-adoption contact agreement, research the laws in your state. Be very clear on expectations before placement, if at all possible. Adoption is a leap of faith on both sides. Respect one another, and uphold your end of the agreement. Always making the well-being of the adoptee the priority is the keystone to a positive open adoption relationship.

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