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Angela Mae Kupenda, Angelia L. M. Wallace, Jamie Deon Travis,  Brandon Issac Dorsey and  Bryant Guy

Excerpted from: Angela Mae Kupenda, Angelia L. M. Wallace, Jamie Deon Travis, Brandon Issac Dorsey and Bryant Guy ,Aren't Two Parents Better than None: Contractual and Statutory Basics for a "New" African American Coparenting Joint Adoption Model , 9 Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review 59, 59-64 (Fall 1999) (153 Footnotes)


Creative ideas are needed to resolve problems that continue to plague us. One such problem is the crisis surrounding the disproportionate number of African American children who continue to live in foster homes with no permanent parents at all. In Two Parents Are Better Than None, Professor Angela Mae Kupenda proposed an adoption model for legalized joint adoption and coparenting in the black community. This coparenting joint adoption model allows for a child to be adopted by two single black people who are not married to each other and who are not romantically or sexually involved with each other. The focus of the model is not on two people who may one day "fit" into the traditional nuclear family model; rather, the focus is on two single people who are not in a traditional parenting relationship, but who share a close committed bond that can provide a solid, though nontraditional, foundation for a coparenting relationship. The adopted child might otherwise end up with no permanent parents. And, having two parents, although nontraditional ones, is better than a child having none at all.

Admittedly, one possible reservation to Kupenda's model is that it removes marriage from its centrality as a foundation for raising children. Actually, her model does not remove marriage. Rather, it just acknowledges other parenting possibilities for raising children, especially children with no permanent parents at all. Even if marriage is removed somehow as the basis for parenting under Kupenda's model, we are still left with the recognition of a loving, committed, coparenting relationship as a solid parental framework for raising children. Similarly, other scholars suggest that the nuclear family and traditional adult sexual relationships have been overrated as the fundamental building block for the recognition of "family." Professor Martha Fineman also suggests that there should be a "transfer of societal subsidies (material and ideological) away from the sexual family to . . . nurturing units." Kupenda's proposed coparenting model is indeed such a "nurturing unit" entitled to recognition by and support of the government and its laws.

Since Kupenda's Two Parents Are Better Than None was published, a number of other scholars have endorsed or expanded upon the concept of coparenting. Professor Theresa Glennon utilizes a "children's advocacy perspective" to argue that the government should not refuse nontraditional adoptions. Her article references Kupenda's model. Professor Laura M. Padilla urges implementation of a "cohousing community" to benefit single-parent Latinas and their children. Also, at a recent conference sponsored by the International Society of Family Law, renowned scholar Professor Barbara Bennett Woodhouse expanded upon Kupenda's model. She urged that a legally empowered coparenting relationship could encourage two unmarried individuals to jointly adopt any at risk child, not just African American children. She also argued that a coparenting relationship would allow two individuals, who may not singly or individually satisfy rigorous adoption requirements, to jointly satisfy the requirements sufficiently to become coparents.

Kupenda's coparenting model, therefore, is gaining increasing support as a viable alternative for at risk children and children without any permanent loving and stable parents at all. Consequently, this second article is timely. In the earlier article, Kupenda proposed the idea of a coparenting model, but did not address the necessary contractual or statutory frameworks and problems for her model to become a reality. This article proposes to do just that.

This article first reviews the premises of the coparenting joint adoption model. Second, statutory considerations are addressed. It is possible that no statutory revisions are essential to legalize joint adoption; rather, a continued broadening of the reading of present adoption statutes and what constitutes acceptable parents could suffice. This broadening places the best interests of children ahead of preconceived notions of what parenting models ought to look like. Finally, the contractual framework is addressed. A traditional adoption by a married couple arguably has a marital contract to assure joint responsibility for adopted children. Because the coparents in Kupenda's model are not married to one another, a contractual agreement could be beneficial and also serve a precautionary purpose. The validity of such contracts and their basics is also discussed in the third part of this article.

I. The Proposed Model

Under the present state of most adoption laws, a child may be adopted by a married couple or by a single person. Kupenda's model would not displace the present system. Rather, it would aid those not adequately served because they do not "fit" the traditional adoption criteria. The logic and reasoning behind the model is simple:

A disproportionate number of black children are still poor, in foster care, living with neither biological parent; supervised by a child welfare agency; or living with a single parent. The present system was developed long ago to accommodate the needs of white couples who wished to imitate nature. Although blacks now participate in the system, it has never worked effectively for them . . . . The present model, which is based on a preference for the traditional nuclear family, does not adequately fit the realities and traditions of many black adults and children.

The traditional nuclear family is not the reality for many in the black community. Kupenda has argued that the concept of joint adoption and coparenting may be the traditional model for African Americans. Sociologists also suggest that whereas the traditional nuclear family based solely on marriage is a European phenomenon, the extended family or shared parenting is the traditional family in the black community.

The most logical solution seems to be amending adoption laws to bring the group of disadvantaged black children who have no permanent parents together with the pool of willing and capable single black adults who would agree to enter a joint adoption and coparenting arrangement. Kupenda envisions parenting relationships where, for example, two friends, two sisters, two brothers, a sister and a brother, two friends, or a mother and a daughter, could jointly adopt and coparent a

Although the courts have not expressly addressed the coparenting joint adoption model, they have addressed comparable situations. For example, in Moore v. City of East Cleveland, the Supreme Court recognized that "[o]urs is by no means a tradition limited to respect for the bonds uniting the members of the nuclear family." Justice Brennan went a step further in his concurring opinion and acknowledged that "[i]n today's America, the 'nuclear family' is the pattern so often found in much of white suburbia," but, "the Constitution cannot be interpreted . . . however, to tolerate the imposition by government upon the rest of us of white suburbia's preference in patterns of family living." Additionally, several courts have expressly allowed unmarried homosexual couples to jointly adopt and legally coparent children.

. . . .

In essence, Kupenda's coparenting model is already functioning in many families without the benefit of a binding coparenting agreement or a legalized joint adoption. With a proper statutory framework or contractual agreement, single people could be encouraged to jointly coparent and care for some of the many children who presently have no permanent parents at all. While the traditional nuclear family and traditional adult sexual relationships have their own strong points as parenting models, they need not be regarded as the only way. Actually, they have failed as the only way, as illustrated by the disproportionate number of African American children without any permanent parents at all. New models, such as the coparenting joint adoption model structured in this article, are critical and are workable, with loving commitment.