Not all adoptions need to involve a complete break between the families. Sometimes continuing contact can have advantages for all the parties.
A cooperative adoption is appropriate when:
- The birth parents and adoptive parents know each other, and are willing to enter into a post-adoption agreement.
- The birth parents realize that they are unable to care for their children but they do not wish to sever all contact with the children for life.
- The children are in danger of languishing in foster care because reunification is not working, but the situation does not provide grounds for involuntary termination of birth parent rights.
A cooperative adoption can be a plus for the birth parents. The need to go through the painful and often hotly contested battle to end their parental rights is eliminated. The birth parent is freed from what they may perceive as continuing requirements and “harassment” by the child welfare department. Most importantly, they no longer need to fear totally losing their child.
The adopting parents also benefit from a voluntary termination of parental rights. When they already know and have worked with the biological parents, they have some idea of what a continuing relationship might involve. They can use that knowledge to be very specific and detailed about any necessary limits for continuing contact. Finally, in some of the more positive situations, a cooperative adoption extends family connections, in particular by allowing for contact between genetic siblings.
The child may benefit most of all. The rupture of relationships and time in transition are lessened. Fighting is minimized. And lingering personal questions can be addressed directly to the birth mother. All adopted children have basic questions: Am I okay? If so, why did they give me up? What were my birth parents like?
A cooperative adoption is obviously not wise when the two families cannot get along or work together. Other red flags include a history of child abuse or continuing substance addiction.
Cooperative adoptions differ from open adoptions. An open adoption recognizes the child’s need for personal information but does not in itself give the birth parent any legal rights of continuing contact or visitation.
More than half the states currently have statutes that allow written and enforceable agreements for post-adoption contact. No state prohibits cooperative adoptions. Failure to honor the agreement does not compromise the finality of the adoption.
The continuing contact granted is most often minimal, usually specifying a nominal exchange of information about the child and/or the exchange of cards, letters and photos. Less frequently, personal visits may be permitted on special occasions. My experience has been that the birth parents’ interest wanes over time.
By facilitating a voluntary termination of the birth parents’ rights, these laws have permitted hundreds of foster children to obtain permanent homes through adoption with minimal delay and without a court fight.