A PACA for Puck and Quinn?
For those of you who follow the television show Glee, you may be familiar with the story line by which the biological child of Quinn and Puck was given up for adoption and adopted by Rachel’s biological mother, Shelby, who had placed Rachel for adoption 16 or so years earlier. In a recent episode, Shelby indicated that she wanted Quinn and Puck to be a part of the child’s life. Later in that same episode, Quinn indicated that she was going to get her child back. This episode raised several interesting issues from the perspective of current Pennsylvania law.
When a child is adopted, unless it is a step-parent adoption, the rights of the biological parents are terminated. That would mean that Puck and Quinn, in the eyes of the Court, are no longer the parents of baby Elizabeth. In most instances, this is a two (2) step process. First, the parental rights of the child are terminated. Those rights can be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily. I would suspect that the biological parents’ rights would have been terminated by agreement, i.e. Quinn and Puck had each voluntarily agreed to have his or her parental rights terminated. Under Pennsylvania law, each parent would have to sign his or her own consent to termination of rights. After the hearing on the termination of parental rights, then there would be a hearing when Shelby would have adopted the child. As part of the adoption process, the Court’s order provides for the modification of the child’s birth certificate to reflect the adoptive parents as the child’s birth parents.
In some instances, the adoptive parents and the biological parents have what is sometimes referred to as an “open adoption.” In an open adoption, there is an agreement among the parties that the biological parents will continue to have contact with the child after the adoption. The frequency and nature of the contact is determined by the parties. It can run the gamut from an annual holiday card with a picture to actual partial physical custody. Such agreements were not always legally recognized by the courts in Pennsylvania. However, with the implementation of Act 101, which became effective on April 27, 2011, such agreements, now called “Post Adoption Contact Agreements” or PACAs, are enforceable and even modifiable by the Court.
The provisions of Act 101 include who can be a party to a PACA, how and when it can be enforced, and how and when it can be modified. Most importantly, it provides who is to be given notice of the right to enter into a PACA. So there is no misunderstanding, there is no right to enter into a Post Adoption Contact Agreement. However, the parties are to be given notice of their right to enter into a PACA. The adoptive parents can decide they do not want the child to have further contact with the birth parents. In turn, the birth parents can decide to withhold their consents to terminate rights. Whether or not there will be a PACA enabling the birth parents to have some contact with the child after the adoption will be the result of negotiation and/or mediation by the parties involved.
So, if this situation with Quinn, Puck, Shelby and the baby Elizabeth took place in Pennsylvania after the effective date of Act 101, unless there was a Post Adoptive Contact Agreement, Puck and Quinn would see the baby if and only if Shelby wanted such contact to take place. At any time, however, without a PACA, Shelby could decide that she no longer wants Puck or Quinn to see the child – and there would be nothing that they could do about it. If there were a PACA, if Shelby were not complying with the PACA, they could petition the Court to enforce the PACA. All they could get in seeking to enforce the PACA is an order directing Shelby to comply. They could not recover any monetary damages. They could not overturn the adoption. The question remains open, however, as to what the sanctions could be if Shelby failed to comply with the Court order directing her to comply with a PACA. If she could be held in contempt of court which could result in a fine or imprisonment. Still, the adoption would not be set aside.
In conclusion, while it makes for interesting television drama, despite her best intentions, Quinn is not going to be able to get her child back. Her rights have been terminated. Of course, I am not going to be the one to tell her. I don’t want to get slushied.