During your adoption journey, you will encounter a variety of the terms contained below. As experienced adoption attorneys, Chris Craig and Kelly Dempsey have created this glossary for you in the hope that it will help you better understand the terms of art and jargon used among adoption professionals.
If you need clarity on other items, we encourage you to study our website—we have created it as a resource for prospective adoptive families and birth parents. If there is something you cannot find in the glossary or on the Datz Foundation of North Carolina websites, please contact us online or call our offices at 704-643-1110; we would be happy to help!
- A child or adult who is adopted, is placed for adoption, or is the subject of a petition for adoption properly filed with the court
- The creation by law of the relationship of parent and child between two individuals.
- Adoption Agency
- A public or private association, corporation, institution, or other person or entity that is licensed or otherwise authorized by the law of the jurisdiction where it operates to place minors for adoption. “Agency” also means a county department of social services in this State. The Datz Foundation of North Carolina, LLC is a private entity licensed by the State of North Carolina to place minors for adoption.
- Adoption Agreement
- See Adoption Plan. Also see Post Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA).
- Adoption Assistance
- Payments made by a State or the Federal government to assist Adoptive Parents raising Adoptees with special needs or special circumstances. Adoption Assistance can be ongoing or non-recurring.
- Adoption Attorney
- Licensed Attorneys, especially those who are recognized Fellows of the American Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys, who are expert at the legally and emotionally complex process of adoption. Birth parents, pregnant mothers, and potential adoptive parents often hire an adoption attorney for clear information and resources. For example, many folks seek referrals for home study providers, therapists (many who counsel birth mothers for free or sliding-scale fees), and other expert adoption specialists. A key part of the adoption attorney’s role with clients is to help them find excellent help for each part of the adoption. Naturally, the adoption attorney’s main job is to prepare the appropriate adoption documents, to ensure that the client understands the documents and the overall process, and to see that the adoption proceeds with professional precision. The adoption attorney’s role is to be the clients’ trusted advisor and counselor, adeptly assisting them with empathy and honor.
- Adoption Consultant
- An individual or a nonprofit entity that informs prospective Adoptive Parents about the various legitimate options available in an adoption. See for cross reference: Adoption Facilitator.
- Adoption Decree
- The court order entered at the end the Adoption proceedings, only after all legal requirements are met, establishing the legal relationship of parent and child. See also Finalization below.
- Adoption Disruption
- The ending of an adoption after the Adoptive Placement but prior to entry of a decree granting the final adoption; also referred to as “rehoming” or “disruption.” See also the related topic below on Adoption Dissolution.
- Adoption Dissolution
- The ending of an adoption after entry of the court’s final adoption order. An Adoption Decree establishes the relationship of parent and child. When the Court signs the decree, the adoptee is entitled to inherit real and personal property by, through, and from the adoptive parents in accordance with the statutes on intestate succession and has the same legal status, including all legal rights and obligations of any kind whatsoever, as a child born of the adoptive parents. After entry of a final adoption order, changes to legal and physical custody arrangements are governed by the child custody laws codified in North Carolina General Statute Chapter 50. The District Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over Child Custody issues. Adoptions cannot be reversed, except by a subsequent adoption. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services may offer programs to provide needed supports to families at risk of adoption dissolutions in order to keep families together.
- Adoption Facilitator
- An individual or a nonprofit entity that assists biological parents in locating and evaluating prospective adoptive parents. Adoption Facilitators are not licensed or regulated. In North Carolina, Adoption Facilitators must act without charge.
- Adoption Petition
- A special court proceeding filed before the clerk of court of the appropriate county by the adoptive parents when a minor has been placed with the prospective adoptive parent. The spouse of a petitioner must join in the petition, unless the spouse has been declared incompetent or unless this requirement is otherwise waived by the court for cause. If the individual who files the petition is unmarried, no other individual may join in the petition, except that a man and a woman who jointly adopted a minor child in a foreign country while married to one another must readopt jointly.
- Adoption Plan
- The constellation of adoption decisions made by the prospective Adoptive Parent(s). These decisions include choice of professionals, adoptive parents, health care, and ongoing contact.
- Adoptive Parent
- The mother or father of a child in an adoption.
- Adoptive Placement
- Transfer of physical custody of a minor to the selected prospective adoptive parent. Placement may be either: a. Direct placement by a parent or the guardian of the minor; or b. Placement by an agency.
- Adoption Tax ID Number
- A temporary nine-digit number issued by the IRS to individuals who are in the process of legally adopting a U.S. citizen or resident alien child but who can’t get an SSN for that child in time to file their tax return.
- Adult Adoption
- An adult may adopt another adult in North Carolina, except for the spouse of the adopting adult. If a prospective adoptive parent is married, both spouses must join in the petition unless the prospective adoptive parent is the adoptee’s stepparent or unless the court waives this requirement for cause.
- Agency Adoption
- When a child is relinquished by its birth parent(s) to a licensed child placing Agency, this is an Agency Adoption. The Agency takes legal custody of the Adoptee and is responsible to transfer legal custody to the prospective Adoptive Parents. Compare with Independent Adoption.
- See also Adoption Agency.
- Agency Placement
- See also Agency Identified Adoption.
- Agency Identified Adoption
- Placement where an agency has agreed to place the minor with a prospective adoptive parent selected by the parent or guardian.
- Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART)
- Medical processes intended to induce pregnancy. Technologies include egg, sperm and embryo donation; in vitro fertilization; artificial insemination; etc.
- Birth Certificate
- The certificate of birth shall contain those items recommended by the federal agency responsible for national vital statistics, except as amended or changed by the State Registrar. Medical information contained in a birth certificate shall not be public records open to inspection. In adoptions, the Adoptee’s original birth certificate is amended following the entry of the Adoption Decree.
- Birth Father
- Biological father of an adoptee.
- Birth Mother
- Biological mother of an Adoptee.
- Birth Parent
- The genetic parent of a child.
- Certified Copy
- A copy of a primary document showing an endorsement or certificate that it is a true copy of the primary document. For example, the Court will typically need Certified Copies of birth certificates, marriage & death certificates, and divorce decrees.
- Closed Adoption
- Adoption in which the identities and/or contact information about the biological and adoptive families are not shared between them. In North Carolina, closed adoptions cannot occur in Independent Adoptions; however, it is possible to maintain confidentiality in an Agency Adoption. (See also Open Adoption, below)
- Rules about keeping protected information secret. In North Carolina, no identifying or nonidentifying information contained in an adoption-related report or records may be disclosed by present or former employees or officials of the court, an agency, the State, a county, an attorney or other provider of professional services, or any person or entity who wrongfully obtains such a report or records. In addition, unauthorized disclosure of such information is a crime, pursuant to NCGS 48-10-105.
- Consent Form
- The legal document signed by the Birth Parent(s) and Legal Parent(s) placing the Adoptee for Adoption with the prospective Adoptive Parents. The Consent allows adoption only by the specific named Adoptive Parents.
- Consent to Adoption
- Legal permission from the Birth Parent(s) and Legal Parent(s) allowing the adoption by the prospective Adoptive Parents.
- The legal and/or physical control given to a person over another.
- Disapproved Home Study
- A pre-placement assessment that results in an unfavorable recommendation.
- See Adoption Disruption above.
- See Adoption Dissolution above.
- Expectant Mother
- A pregnant woman, referred to here specifically as one seeking an adoptive placement.
- See Adoption Facilitator above.
- The court’s entry of the Adoption Decree, finalizing the adoption.
- Foster-to-Adopt (Foster to Adopt)
- Foster placement in which adoption is contemplated or in process.
- Foster Care
- The system of typically-temporary child placement in which a state-approved caregiver provides care for a child.
- Foster Child
- A Child placed with a DSS foster-approved person, family, or group care.
- Foster Parent
- A state or county foster-approved adult approved to provide (typically temporary) care to a child.
- A person appointed solely for the purpose of performing duties relating to the care, custody, and control of a ward. When a minor either has no natural guardian or has been abandoned, and the minor requires services from the county department of social services, the social services director in the county in which the minor resides or is domiciled shall be the guardian of the person of the minor until the appointment of a general guardian or guardian of the person for the minor under this Subchapter or the entry of an order by a court of competent jurisdiction awarding custody of the minor or appointing a general guardian or guardian of the person for the minor. (See also Legal Guardian and Ward, below).
- Guardian ad Litem
- A guardian ad litem for an infant or incompetent person may be appointed in any case when it is deemed by the court in which the action is pending expedient to have the infant, or insane or incompetent person so represented, notwithstanding such person may have a general or testamentary guardian. In actions or special proceedings when any of the parties are infants or incompetent persons, whether residents or nonresidents of this State, they must appear by general or testamentary guardian, if they have any within the State or by guardian ad litem appointed as hereinafter provided; but if the action or proceeding is against such guardian, or if there is no such known guardian, then such persons may appear by guardian ad litem.
- Home Study
- The Home Study is a key to unlock the prospective adoptive parents’ adoption process. The Home Study must be given to a Birth Mother in order to validate her Consent to Adoption. The Home Study must also be filed with the Court along with the Adoption Petition. Home Study reports are also called pre-placement assessments. The Rules for what goes into a home study are contained in North Carolina General Statues Chapter 48-3-303
- Identifying Information
- Information about birth parents and adoptive parents that identifies those people, such as names, addresses, birth dates, and telephone numbers.
- Independent Adoption
- An adoption arranged privately between the birth family and adoptive parents. Compare with Agency Adoption.
- Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
- A Federal law that governs removal of Native American children from their parents. ICWA gives notice and opportunity to be heard to a federally recognized Native American Tribe in adoptions of qualifying children.
- Intercountry Adoption
- An adoption where the prospective adoptive parents adopt a person from another country. See also International Adoption below.
- International Adoption
- An adoption where the prospective adoptive parents adopt a person from another country. See also Intercountry Adoption above.
- Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)
- An agreement between the 50 US States, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands providing oversight over the transfer of children being moved across state lines for the purpose of adoption. The ICPC rules require strict compliance, and adoptions can be at risk where children have been moved across state lines in violation of (or without obeying) the ICPC requirements.
- Legal Custody
- Generally speaking, “custody” means care, control, and discretion over a minor child. Legal and physical custody arrangements are governed by the child custody laws codified in North Carolina General Statute Chapter 50. The District Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over Child Custody issues. Nothing can interfere with the ability of a District Court Judge to enter orders about Child Custody, if a court is asked to address these issues. Nevertheless, many parents address custody legally by use of private agreements.
- Legal Guardian
- In any case when no parent appears in a hearing with the juvenile or when the court finds it would be in the best interests of the juvenile, the court may appoint a guardian of the person for the juvenile. Guardianship of Minor Children is governed by the laws codified in North Carolina General Statutes 7B. The Clerk of Superior Court has jurisdiction over the entry and amendment of Guardianships in Special Proceedings. (See also Guardian, above and Ward, below).
- The Matching process unites a birth parent (or a child awaiting placement) with a prospective adoptive family seeking to bring a child into the home. Matching leads to placement, ideally.
- Non-Identifying Information
- In an adoption proceeding, adoptive parents must file documents (DSS forms 5102 and 5103) containing the Birth Parents’ medical information and biographical social data, including information about the Birth Parents and the Child’s biological grandparents. This information does not include the names of extended biological family members or any contact information. For example, the addresses, phone numbers, email addresses are not included. However, the form will include genetic disposition to any diseases, as well as the cause of death or occurrence of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or heart disease of a biological ancestor.
- Non-Recurring Adoption Costs
- For families adopting children with special needs, the State of North Carolina provides funds to compensate and/or reimburse the expenses incurred by the adopting family. There are two types of programs, ongoing, monthly assistance and reimbursement for non-recurring, one-time adoption expenditures. The type of Non-Recurring Adoption Costs that may be reimbursed include preplacement assessment (home study) fees, attorney’s fees (up to a certain limit), medical and psychological costs necessitate by the adoption, travel expenses, etc.
- Non-Sectarian Agencies
- An adoption agency which does not have or require religious affiliation. (See also See also Secular Adoption Agency).
- Open Adoption
- In North Carolina, with a few exceptions, almost all adoptions are technically Open Adoptions. In a private placement adoption, the Birth Mother is required to receive a copy of the Adoptive Parents’ Home Study (Preplacement Assessment), which contains various items of identifying information. Likewise, the Adoptive Parents receive various elements of identifying information from the Birth Parent(s). Furthermore, in many cases, the Prospective Adoptive Parents and the Birth Parent(s) will get to know one another during the pregnancy, often communicating regularly by telephone, text, and in person. In rare cases where an Adoption Agency takes legal custody of the Adoptee for purposes of Adoption, the flow of identifying information can be limited to a degree that it might be referred to as a “Closed Adoption.” This is not the common practice. (See also Closed Adoption, above).
- Whether by natural conception & birth, by adoption (including Step Parent Adoption), or by gestational surrogacy, the relationship of Parent and Child is one where the Child is entitled to inherit real and personal property by, through, and from the Parent(s) in accordance with the statutes on intestate succession and has the same legal status, including all legal rights and obligations of any kind whatsoever, as a Child born the legitimate Child of the Parent(s). As used in North Carolina General Statute Chapter 48, which governs adoptions, the term “parent” includes one who has become a parent by adoption.
- A special court proceeding filed before the clerk of court of the appropriate county by the adoptive parents when a minor has been placed with the prospective adoptive parent. The spouse of a petitioner must join in the petition, unless the spouse has been declared incompetent or this requirement is otherwise waived by the court for cause. If the individual who files the petition is unmarried, no other individual may join in the petition, except that a man and a woman who jointly adopted a minor child in a foreign country while married to one another must readopt jointly.
- Physical Custody
- The physical care of and control over an individual.
- Transfer of physical custody of a Minor Child to the selected Prospective Adoptive Parent for purposes of adoption. Placement may be either: a. Direct placement by a parent or the guardian of the minor; or b. Placement by an agency. In a direct placement, a parent or guardian must personally select a prospective adoptive parent, but a parent or guardian may obtain assistance from another person or entity or an adoption facilitator in locating or evaluating a prospective adoptive parent, subject to restrictions contained in North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 48. Information about a prospective adoptive parent shall be provided to a prospective placing parent or guardian by the prospective adoptive parent, the prospective adoptive parent’s attorney, or a person or entity assisting the parent or guardian. Typically, this information shall include the pre-placement assessment prepared by a licensed child placing agency, and may include additional information requested by the parent or guardian.
- Post Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA)
- A written or unwritten agreement between the adoptive family and a birth family defining the terms by which future contact will be made between them.
- Post-Placement Visits
- Following Placement, a Licensed Child Placing Agency is identified to perform follow-up visits with the Adoptive Family and to prepare a Report on Proposed Adoption, which the Court relies upon to determine the suitability of the Placement. In preparing the report, the Agency conducts a personal interview with each Petitioner in the Petitioner’s residence and at least one additional interview with each Petitioner and the adoptee. The Agency is required to observe the relationship between the adoptee and the Petitioner(s). (See Preparation and Content of Report.)
- Private Adoption Agency
- A non-public, private association, corporation, institution, or other person or entity that is licensed or otherwise authorized by the law of the jurisdiction where it operates to place minors for adoption.
- Pre-Placement Assessment
- Also referred to as a Home Study or a PPA, this is a document, whether prepared before or after placement, that contains the information required by the North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 48. In a Private Placement Adoption, the PPA is required to be given to the Birth Mother in order to validate the Birth Mother’s Consent. If not provided to the Birth Mother at or before the signing of the Consent, her Consent remains revocable for at least 5 days after she has received the PPA. (See also Home Study).
- Public Adoption Agency
- A public, governmental entity that is licensed or otherwise authorized by the law of the jurisdiction where it operates to place minors for adoption.
- Putative Father Registry
- As per Wikipedia, “[i]n the United States, the Putative Father Registry is a state level legal option for unmarried males to document through a notary public any female they engage with in intercourse, for the purpose of retaining parental rights for any child they may father.” The Putative Father is also referred to as a Birth Father, and so the Registry is often called a “Birth Father Registry.” North Carolina does not currently maintain a Putative Father Registry.
- In some instances (Foreign Adoption, after a Step Parent Adoption), a Parent (or Former Parent) may file to Readopt their Child. Re-adoption is a key step in completing international adoption proceedings. Although Re-adoption may not be required in North Carolina, it provides significant benefits to adopted children and their families, including the right to a North Carolina birth certificate.
- Voluntary surrender of a minor to an agency for the purpose of adoption.
- Resident Alien Child
- A foreign-born child, not a U.S. Citizen who is living in the United States.
- Upon signing a Consent to Adoption, a Placing Parent retains the right to reverse that Consent for a short period of time. In North Carolina, the general rule is that the Placing Parent has seven (7) days to Revoke. A consent to the adoption of any infant who is in utero or any minor may be revoked within seven days following the day on which it is executed. Please see North Carolina General Statute 48-3-608 for further reading regarding Revocation of Consent.
- Secular Adoption Agency
- An adoption agency which does not have or require religious affiliation.
- Stepparent Adoption
- The North Carolina General Statutes defines a Stepparent very specifically for purposes of adoption: an individual who is the spouse of a parent of a child, but who is not a legal parent of the child. A stepparent may file a petition to adopt a minor who is the child of the stepparent’s spouse if: (1) The parent who is the spouse has legal and physical custody of the child, and the child has resided primarily with this parent and the stepparent during the six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition; (2) The spouse is deceased or incompetent but, before dying or being adjudicated incompetent, had legal and physical custody of the child, and the child has resided primarily with the stepparent during the six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition; or (3) For cause, the court permits a stepparent who does not meet the requirements of subdivisions (1) and (2) to file a petition.
- A person who has been adjudicated incompetent or an adult or minor for whom a guardian has been appointed by a court of competent jurisdiction (See also Legal Guardian and Guardian, above).