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Bill to create enforceable open adoption agreements headed to Senate

Published: Thursday, Feb. 14 2013 7:59 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would create an option for enforceable post-adoption contact agreements is headed to the Utah Senate.

The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee gave unanimous support to SB155 Thursday, which would permit prospective adoptive parents, birth parents or other birth relatives of a prospective adoptive child to enter into an open adoption agreement.

The amended bill, sponsored by Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, would apply only to adoptions of children in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services.

Hillyard said such agreements would have to be approved by judges. The agreements would require the consent of adoptive parents. Birth parents would have to consent to the adoption.

"Obviously, this will not work in every case, and I'm not forcing it in every case," Hillyard said, noting post-adoption agreements may only be modified with the consent of the adoptive parents.

"It's always in the hands of the adoptive parents to say, 'No,'" he said.

While some adoption organizations want the state to pass laws establishing enforceable open adoption agreements, some representatives questioned limiting the law to adoptions of children in state custody, whose parents' parental rights have been terminated or voluntarily relinquished.

"The sense is, we're kind of taking this bill for a test drive to see how it works," said adoption attorney Wes Hutchins, representing the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices.

Kimberly Wilson, a social worker and an adoptee, said children eligible for adoption in the DCFS system are least likely to have "appropriate parents" with whom to form an ongoing relationships.

An adoptive parent, Cristina Miller, urged the committee to study the matter further.

"I ask the committee to not pass this bill. I feel like we really need to study this more. I'm open to some of the options, and I want look out for the birth parent. But I want to be very, very careful," said Miller, who is part of the Utah Adoption Council.

But others, like family law attorney Jackie DeGaston, said SB155 "is long overdue. It would have helped kids for the past 15 years."

DeGaston said she has handled cases in which birth fathers have consented to stepfathers adopting their children only to have no options to enforce open adoption agreements.

"I would love to see this law go through," she said.

The bill was also supported by Laura Bunker of United Families Utah. Hillyard's bill creates "safety parameters" around post-adoption contact agreements, she said.

Under current state law, open adoption agreements are not legally enforceable, Hillyard explained in a previous hearing on the issue. 

Because the agreements have no enforcement mechanism, unscrupulous adoptive parents "promise the sun and the moon" to birth parents, Hutchins said. "When the ink on adoption decree is dry, they change their mind."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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