Private adoption provisions advance

Parents who conduct an adoption privately or through an agency would be authorized to enter into a communication and contact agreement under a bill advanced from general file March 23.

Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier, sponsor of LB744, said he introduced the bill in response to a recent case in which the Nebraska Supreme Court stated that it could not uphold a communication and contact agreement—also referred to as an open adoption agreement—for a private adoption because such agreements are not authorized in state law.

Watermeier said the court further ruled that a violation of the open adoption agreement in the case was grounds to set aside the adoption decree, and the child was returned to the birth parents.

Open adoption agreements are allowed for adoption of state wards, he said, but the Legislature has not authorized them for private or agency adoptions. To preserve the state’s adoption system and protect the best interests of children, lawmakers need to authorize open adoption agreements for private adoptions as well, he said.

“No one should have to experience what these families have had to experience,” Watermeier said.

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 38-0, would:
• authorize a court to incorporate a communication and contact agreement into an adoption agreement;
• stipulate that failure to comply with the terms of a communication and contact agreement is not grounds to invalidate an adoption or the relinquishment of parental rights;
• allow a communication and contact agreement to be enforceable in civil action if the petitioner has participated or attempted to participate in good faith mediation;
• require an adoption agency to be invited to participate in mediation; and
• require certain disclosures to be included in a communication and contact agreement.

Watermeier offered an amendment, adopted 31-0, which would require parties seeking court enforcement of a communication and contact agreement to participate in mediation first.

“In other states it’s been found that mediation effectively resolves the vast majority of these situations,” he said.

The amendment also changes the term “birth parent” to “relinquishing parent” in the bill and would require that a relinquishing parent be provided independent legal counsel and at least three hours of professional counseling at the expense of the adoptive parent or parents prior to relinquishment.

“Whether to place your child for adoption is a very important decision and should not be taken lightly,” Watermeier said. “[These provisions] will help ensure that biological parents are well aware of the ramifications of their decision.”

Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams supported the bill and the amendments, saying LB744 is important to create a system to allow for more open adoptions with greater protections for all parties.

“I found it somewhat scary that there were situations in open adoptions where one attorney was representing both the adoptive parents and the [birth parents],” he said.

Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward also supported the bill, saying his family has benefitted from open adoption.

“Both the birth parents and the adoptive parents need to have a clear understanding of what they’re getting into,” he said.

The bill advanced to select file 42-0.

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