Angela Mae Kupenda, et. al.
Excerpted from: Angela Mae Kupenda ; Angelia L. M.
Wallace ; Jamie Deon Travis ; Brandon Issac Dorsey ; 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
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
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
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
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.