Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Glossary of Adoption Terms

Are you interested in an agency or independent adoption? Would you be okay with an at-risk placement or would you rather have written consent from the birth parents? You'll be confronted by a whole new set of words and terminology when you embark on the adoption process, so it's important to understand them. Many of these terms have specific legal meanings, so using the right terms is key to properly filing your paperwork and making the right decisions.

The following glossary of adoption terms includes definitions for some of the words and phrases you'll encounter during the adoption process.

Adoption Terms: Glossary

Adoption. A legally recognized process that creates a parent-child relationship between individuals who aren't biologically related to each other.

Adoption agency. An agency licensed by the state to prepare adoptive parents, counsel birth parents, perform home studies, complete paperwork, place children in homes, and perform other adoption-related functions.

Adoption agreement. The agreement in which the adoptive parent(s) and birth parent(s) put into writing their understanding of the terms of an adoption -- including the degree of communication and contact they'll have with each other and with the adopted child.

Adoption plan. The birth parent(s)'s decision to allow a biological child to be adopted into an adoptive family.

Adoption "triangle" (or adoption "triad"). An expression used to describe the three-sided inter-relationships among adopted children, their birth parents, and their adoptive parents.

Adoptive parent. The mother or father of an adopted child.

At-risk placement. The placement of a child into the prospective adoptive family before the birth parents' rights have been legally extinguished.

Birth parent. A mother or father who is genetically related to the child.

Certified copy. A copy of an official document, like a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or divorce decree, that has been certified by an official to be authentic and bears an original seal or embossed design.

Confidential adoption or closed adoption. An adoption in which the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s) don't meet, don't exchange identifying information, and don't maintain contact with each other.

Designated adoption or identified adoption. An adoption in which the birth parent(s) choose(s) the adoptive parent(s) for the child.

Domestic adoption. The adoption of a child born in the United States.

Dossier. A collection of required documents that is sent to a foreign country in order to process the adoption of a child in that country's legal system.

Facilitator. A person or organization that arranges domestic and/or international adoptions.

Finalization. The legal process by which the adoption becomes permanent and binding.

Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. A multinational agreement designed to promote the uniformity and efficiency of international adoptions.

Home study. A study of the prospective adoptive family and their home, life experiences, health, lifestyle, extended family, attitudes, support system, values, beliefs, and other factors relating to the prospective adoption. This information is summarized in an adoption study or home study report.

Independent adoption. An adoption arranged privately between the birth family and the adoptive family, without an adoption agency.

Inter-country or international adoption. The adoption of a child from a country outside of the United States.

Non-identifying information. Information that allows the birth and adoptive families to learn pertinent facts about each other without revealing who they are or how they can be contacted.

Open adoption or cooperative adoption. An adoption in which the birth parents and adoptive parents have contact with each other before and/or after the placement of the adopted child.

Post-placement services. A variety of services provided after the adoption is finalized, including counseling, social services, and adoptive family events, and outings.

Special needs child. A child with medical, mental, emotional, behavioral, or educational needs that could require extra on-going attention.

Termination of parental rights. The process by which a parent's rights to his or her child are legally and permanently terminated, after which the child becomes eligible for adoption.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Bureau (USCIS). An agency of the federal government that approves an adopted child's immigration into the United States and grants U.S. citizenship to children adopted from other countries.

Waiting child. A child currently available for adoption. Waiting children may be in the U.S. foster care system, might be older, or could be special needs children.

Get Professional Legal Help With an Adoption

As you can see from the glossary of adoption terms, the process can be quite complex and varied. A legal professional can make sure you make the right choices and file the correct paperwork on time, while understanding what you're getting into. Get started today and contact an experienced adoption law attorney near you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options