Changing Your Perspective: Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Terms You Need to Know | Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP


November is National Adoption Awareness Month, celebrating families built through adoption while raising awareness for the thousands of foster children across the United States waiting for loving homes. Aspects of the adoption and family building process are complicated and can be stigmatized. It is important to learn what language means and to consider changing the language and perspective to help remove this stigma and create understanding in such a difficult process. Here are some tips and terms to know when considering building options for your family.

“Domestic adoption”

Domestic adoption is when a child is adopted in the United States by an American family. This can be a newborn or infant up to an adult and is often supplemented by an agency and / or a lawyer.

“Adoption of parentage”

Parentage adoption is when a child is adopted by a parent, such as a grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle. A home study is probably not necessary for a close family relationship, although a more distant family member may be treated like any other potential adoptive parent and be required to complete a home study report.

“Private adoption”

Private adoption is when a biological family develops an adoption plan so that their child is placed with prospective adoptive parents. Prospective adoptive parents must meet the pre-placement and post-placement conditions regulated by the state. The biological family has the possibility of choosing the future adoptive family. All parties decide what type of adoption relationship they plan to have, such as an open or closed adoption relationship.

“Public adoption”

Public adoption refers to adoption through the welfare system, working with government sponsored agencies as part of a foster care program. In the public system, children who are removed from their homes to be placed in foster care with the initial aim of reuniting with their biological parents or relatives through foster care. If reunification and foster care are not possible and the rights of the biological parents are removed, the child can be adopted.

“International adoption”

Intercountry or intercountry adoption refers to adoptions between two different countries, either children adopted from another country by American families, or international families adopting American children. Intercountry adoption is regulated by the state department and the United States is a member of the Haye Convention.

“Interstate adoption”

Interstate adoption refers to adoption between states, the state where the child leaves the sending state and the state where the child will live permanently is the receiving state. Interstate adoption is regulated by the Interstate Pact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) under the Children’s Office of the Department of Health and Social Services. The ICPC is the uniform legal and administrative procedure governing the inter-state placement of children and constitutes a statutory law in the fifty-two member jurisdictions and a binding contract between the member jurisdictions.

“Abandon a child”

Instead, consider “making or choosing an adoption plan”; or “place a child in a family with a view to adoption”

“Birth mother or birth father”

Consider instead “biological mother / father”, “pregnant mother / father”, “biological pregnant mother / father”, “mother / father” (remember there can be more than one mother or father! )

“Drug or alcohol abuse / Addict”

Consider “substance use” or “drug history” instead.

Substitute and gestational carrier “

These are often used interchangeably but are different. Today, the gestational carrier is often referred to as a “gestational surrogate mother”.

  • A traditional surrogate mother carries a child created by their own egg and the sperm of a parent or intention donor, they are biologically related to the child.
  • A gestational carrier or the gestational surrogate mother carries an embryo created by a donor or the intended parents, they have no biological connection to the child.

“Intended parent”

  • Intended parent – Intended parent refers to the party who will raise the child born through assisted reproduction, whether through embryo, egg or sperm donation, or through a maternity agreement of substitution.

“Donation and adoption of embryos”

  • Embryo donation – If you have created embryos as part of your own family formation process and you have unused embryos that you want to make available to others, you can donate them to an embryo bank.
  • Embryo adoption – If you do not have your own embryos, you can “adopt” embryos from an embryo bank. This process should not be confused with traditional adoption as it is not a legal procedure for giving up biological rights and finalizing the new parent (s) as legal parents.

The National embryo donation center provides detailed resources on terminology surrounding embryo donation and adoption here.

“Consents or waivers”

These are the legal instruments or documents that the biological parents fulfill in order to consent to the adoption and / or to renounce their parental rights towards the child. In many states, consents or waivers must go to court for a decree terminating the rights of birth parents. In some states, this is the only mechanism needed to extinguish rights, and no court order is made to do so. Each state has its own state law on termination of birth parent rights and it is important to know and understand the law in both the state of the birth parent and the state of the adoptive parent.

“Termination of parental rights”

It is the decree or court order that declares that the rights of the biological parent are terminated forever and that the child is therefore free to adopt. Once the termination order or decree has been concluded, the adoptive family can then submit the file to finalize its adoption.


This is the hearing during which the court decrees or orders that the adoptive parents are the legal parents of the adoptee. This is usually an in-person hearing after the termination decree is issued and requires the adoptive parent (s) to testify and the adoptee to appear. Depending on the age of the adoptee, he may also be called upon to testify. The court judgment finalizing the adoption will also give the new name the adoptive parent (s) want for the child. Although the finalization hearing legally completes the adoption, there are steps you need to take after your child is finalized.

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