Adoption: A process in which an adult assumes the legal parenting responsibilities for another, usually a minor, from that person's biological or legal parents. The process is permanent and legally binding.
Adoption Agency: A public, private, or religious organization licensed with the state that connects birth parents and children who need families to adoptive parents. Agencies can be either for-profit or not-for-profit.
Adoption Placement: The point in an adoption process where a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents.
Adoption Subsidies: Funds provided by federal or state governments to help adoptive parents offset some of the costs associated with adopting children who need special services.
“At-risk" Adoption: When adoptive parents accept placement of a child when the birth parents' rights have not yet been legally severed or when the appeal period has not yet expired.
Consent to Adopt: The legal agreement by a biological parent, legal guardian, or agency to relinquish all legal rights and duties to a child. In most states, consent must be in writing and notarized or executed before a judge.
Legal Custody: Someone with legal custody has the right, and legal obligation, to make decisions about a child's care and wellbeing. This includes decisions related to schooling, medical care, and religious upbringing. Even though a foster parent of agency has legal custody over a child, however, biological parents can retain their parental rights and might have full legal custody restored.
Decree of Adoption: The document that must be signed by a judge to finalize an adoption. A decree of adoption formally bestows full parental rights and obligations upon the adoptive parent, and terminates the rights and obligations of the birth parents.
Disruption: A term used to describe the termination of an adoption process prior to the finalization of the adoption. A disruption can happen for any number of reasons. An adoption agency may disrupt the adoption if adoptive parents are not complying with requirements, for instance, or adoptive parents themselves may choose to disrupt the adoption process. Some agencies have begun referring to this process as “re-homing."
Dissolution: A term used to describe the termination of an adoption after the finalization of the adoption. Dissolution is initiated by the adoptive parents, and usually occurs as a result of improper levels of education or information of the part of adoptive parents.
Domestic Adoption: The adoption of an infant from the United States with the help of an adoption agency or attorney.
Federal Adoption Tax Credit: Passed in 1997 under President Bill Clinton, this tax credit helps adoptive families offset the costs of adoption. The credit is applied once per adopted child. Some states also offer tax credits, providing an additional level of support.
Finalization Hearing: The last step in the adoption process, when a court issues a “decree of adoption," thus making the adoption permanent and binding. Depending on the jurisdiction, finalization hearings can take place anywhere between three months to a year after a child is placed with adoptive parents.
Foster Parent: An individual or couple who has temporary care of a child but has no legal rights in determining certain aspects of a child's life. As of now, no state in the country explicitly prohibits LGBT individuals from becoming foster parents. However, some states have taken steps to made the process more inclusive for LGBT foster parents.
Foster to Adopt: This refers to a placement in which the foster care parents plan to fully adopt the child if and when parental rights are terminated. Also called Foster-Adopt.
Guardian ad litem (GAL): A person appointed by a court to investigate what solutions would be “in the best interests of the child" in question. Courts sometimes use GALs to make custody recommendations. The (Latin) phrase ad litem means “for the (law)suit."
Hague Adoption: The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (“Hague Convention") is a multi-country treaty enacted in 1993 that provides important safeguards to protect the best interests of children, birth parents, and adoptive parents who are involved in intercountry adoptions. It is designed to combat child trafficking within international adoptions.
Home Study: A process every prospective adoptive parent must complete to be able to legally adopt in the United States. A home study is comprehensive, and typically includes: inspections of the home of the adoptive parents, an evaluation of the relationship between the adoptive parents, the medical history of the adoptive parents, employment verifications, verification of financial status, and criminal background checks.
International Adoption: An international adoption refers to the adoption of a child who is a citizen of one country by adoptive parents who are citizens of a different country. (Very few countries allow adoption by same-sex parents.)
Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC): Established in 1974, the ICPC established uniform procedures to govern the interstate placement of children. In The ICPC requires prospective adoptive parents who are involved in an adoption across state lines to comply with the adoption laws of the child's state of residence.
Independent Adoption: The process of pursuing an adoption without the help of an adoption agency. It is also known as a private adoption. Parents who pursue independent adoptions must still enlist the help of adoption lawyers and other professionals to help with the process. Independent adoptions are not legal in every state.
Joint Adoption: A legal process that allows two unmarried people to petition to adopt a child together at the same time.
Life Book: A resource social workers help adoptive parents create for their children to help explain their background and history. Life books, which are often illustrated, can sometimes be created with the help of birth parents.
Matching: An adoption matching refers to process social workers and other adoption professionals undergo to place a child with adoptive parents. Matches are made on the basis of any number of factors, such as the specific needs of the child and the wishes of the adoptive parents.
Multi-Ethnic Placement Act/Interethnic Placement Act (MEPA/IEPA): Taken together, these two laws, enacted in 1993 and 1996 respectively, remove race, ethnicity, and country of origin from consideration when adoption professionals consider adoption matches.
Open Adoption: A form of adoption where certain information is shared between birth and adoptive parents to maintain some level of connection. In an open adoption the level of contact between birth and adoptive parents can vary widely.
Parental Rights: The rights (such as decision-making abilities) and obligations (such as providing care and financial support) associated with being the legal parent of a child.
Post-Adoption Services: Services sometimes available to adoptive families, from therapists to financial planning, after the successful completion of an adoption.
Post-Placement Supervision: Following the placement of a child, but before the finalization of an adoption, a social worker will complete a series of home visits with the adoptive family. The specifics of post-placement supervision vary by state.
Private Adoption: See Independent Adoption.
Second Parent Adoption: A legal procedure by which a same-sex parent, regardless of whether he or she has a legally recognized relationship to the other parent, is able to adopt her or his partner's biological or adoptive child without terminating the first parent's legal status.
Special Needs Child (or Children): A child (or children) who may have mild to severe physical or mental needs. Some adoptive families of special needs children are eligible for subsidies to help accommodate the needs of the children.
Termination of Parental Rights: A legally binding process that eliminates a parent's rights and obligations to a child.
Waiting Children: A term used to describe children who will not return to their biological and legal guardians, and need permanent, adoptive homes.
Workplace Adoption Benefits: Benefits (such as reimbursements and parental leave) offered by some employers to employees who choose to adopt.
For more, read our article “6 Adoption Tips That Every Prospective Gay Dad Needs to Know."
Don't forget to read our indispensable guide to adoption: “Paths to Gay Fatherhood: The Adoptive Dad."
Check out our article "7 Children's Books About Gay Dad Adoptive Families."