Cooperative Adoption

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The interests of the child are best served when the major players work together. One special and important possibility where agreement between the parties can override disputes and delays is a cooperative adoption. Birth parents, through a cooperative adoption, can give up parental rights and still retain a legal right to visitation. This can be an ideal way to minimize delay and allow the child to maintain contact with the important people in his or her life.

“Postadoption contact agreements are arrangements that allow for some kind of contact between a child's adoptive family and members of the child's birth family or other persons with whom the child has an established relationship, such as a foster parent, after the child's adoption has been finalized. These arrangements, sometimes referred to as cooperative adoption or open adoption agreements, can range from informal, mutual understandings between the birth and adoptive families to written, formal contracts.

“In general, State law does not prohibit postadoption contact or communication. Since adoptive parents have the right to decide who may have contact with their adopted child, they can allow any amount of contact with birth family members, and such contacts often are arranged by mutual understanding without any formal agreement.

“A written contractual agreement between the parties to an adoption can clarify the type and frequency of the contact or communication and can provide a way for the agreement to be legally enforced. Approximately 23 States currently have statutes that allow written and enforceable contact agreements. The written agreements specify the type and frequency of contact and are signed by the parties to an adoption prior to finalization. The modes of contact can range from an exchange of information about the child between adoptive and birth parents to the exchange of cards, letters, and photos to personal visits with the child by birth family members.

“For the agreements to be enforceable, they must be approved by the court that has jurisdiction over the adoption. Generally, all parties wishing to be included in the agreements must agree in writing to all terms of the agreement prior to the adoption finalization. The court may approve the agreement only if all parties agree on its provisions, and the court finds the agreement is in the best interests of the child.” (Child Welfare Information Gateway)

To find information on all of the States and territories, view the complete printable PDF, titled: “Postadoption Contact Agreements Between Birth and Adoptive Families: Summary of state Laws” (

Some might fear that a child’s stability would be undermined by contact with biological parents after the child has had a permanent adoptive home. Children of divorce, however, maintain contact with both custodial and non-custodial parents, and research shows that the child is the better for maintaining such contact. Others might object that adoptive parents want to adopt a child, not the child’s whole biological family. However, cooperative adoption is voluntary and cannot take place unless birth parents and adoptive parents agree in advance on all the terms. Visitation rules can be made very specific to protect the adopting parents.

Cooperative adoption is appropriate when 1) the birth parents and adoptive parents know each other and are willing to enter into a post-adoption agreement; 2) the birth parents realize that they are unable to care for their children but they do not wish to sever all contact with the child for life; and 3) 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. 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.

Planning for children in temporary care can and should involve the foster parents, the mental health professionals, the caseworker, and the court. How each of these players can help achieve the desired outcome of early permanence in the best and most appropriate home is the focus of the next four chapters.