Adoption Terms Defined


“Adoption Act” is the law that governs adoptions that are filed in Illinois. It is found at 750 ILCS 50/0.01 and following.

“Agency Adoption”: This term generally refers to an adoption in which the child has been placed in the prospective adoptive home by a public (Illinois “Department of Children and Family Services”) or licensed private child welfare agency.

“Adult Adoption”: Not only children, but also adults can be adopted in Illinois. Special rules apply to the adoption of an adult, and much of the information described on this web site does not apply to adult adoptions.

“Available for Adoption”: An adoption cannot be filed unless a child is “available” for adoption. Generally a child will be available for adoption if the child’s birth parents have “surrendered” the child to a licensed child welfare agency and the agency has agreed to the adoption by the prospective adoptive parent(s), or if the birth parents have consented to the adoption by signing a “final and irrevocable consent to adoption” and placed the child with the prospective adoptive parent(s).

“Consent to Adoption”: A birth parent can agree to an adoption by signing a “final and irrevocable consent to adoption”. Special rules govern when these documents can be signed, what language they must contain, and who can witness their signing.

“Contested Adoption”: Sometimes one or more of the parties to an adoption may not agree that the adoption is a good idea, and may “fight” or “contest” the adoption.

“Home Study”: Unless a child is related to the prospective adoptive parent(s), the court will usually require a “home study” to be performed by a social service agency or other designated person or agency as a part of the adoption process. As a part of the “home study”, the social worker writing the report will make a recommendation whether the court should grant the adoption. The final decision about whether an adoption should be allowed is always made by the judge who hears the case.

The “home study” will contain information about the prospective adoptive parent(s), including such things as economic circumstances, persons in the home where the adopted child will live, extended family, financial resources, physical and mental health, and criminal history (including a background check of “CANTS” and “LEADS”). The written “home study” is provided to the judge and to the guardian ad litem” prior to the court hearing on the adoption.

“Interim Order”: This order, usually entered early in the court process, gives the prospective adoptive parents legal custody of the child during the “interim”, or period between the time the adoption Petition is filed and the date of final hearing in the case.

“International Adoption” I “Foreign Adoption”: As the term implies, in an international or “foreign” adoption, the adoptive parent(s) adopt a child from another country. Foreign adoptions can be more difficult procedurally, because the adoptive parent(s) must satisfy the adoption requirements of the foreign country and the requirements of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly called the INS), in addition to the requirements of the State of Illinois.

“Open adoption”: Historically, adoptions were “closed” proceedings, and the birth parents and the prospective adoptive parent(s) and no contact, and usually did not even know the other parties’ identities, perhaps beyond their first names. The adoption process has generally become much more “open” in recent years. Currently, birth parents and adoptive parent(s) will have open and frequent contact both before and after the birth of the child. However, even in an “open” adoption, the court proceedings themselves will be “closed” to the public, and the court record impounded and not available for public access or inspection.

“Petition to Adopt”: This document, signed under oath by the person(s) wanting to adopt the child, provides information to the court about the person to be adopted and the person(s) wanting to adopt. The kinds of information the “Petition” must contain are described in the Illinois Adoption Act. The Petition often contains a request that the child’s birth name be changed to one chosen for the child by the prospective adoptive parent(s). A “Petition to Adopt” can include more than one child.

“Petitioner(s)”: The person or persons seeking to adopt the child. The “Petitioner(s)” may be a single person, a married or unmarried couple. In certain circumstances, a married person may be a Petitioner without the other spouse joining in the Petition.

“Private Adoption”: In a “private” adoption, no agency is involved in helping to facilitate the adoption, although an agency will typically provide a “home study” to the court as a part of the court process. Sometimes a “private” adoption will result from direct contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents; in some circumstances, an intermediary (for example, clergy, an attorney or a doctor) will serve as a contact between the different parties. A lawyer will typically be involved, even if no “intermediary” is used, in order to complete the court work that is a part of the adoption process.

“Putative father”: A person who has been identified as a possible father of a child, but whose paternity has not been legally established.

“Related Adoption”: In a “related”  adoption, one of the Petitioners is already legally related to the child, usually as a parent or grandparent.

“Surrender”: A birth parent can agree that a social service agency should care for a child, and place the child in a home so that the child can be adopted by someone else. A parent can do this by signing a “final and irrevocable surrender for purposes of adoption”. Special rules govern when these documents can be signed, what language the surrender must contain, and who can witness their signing.

“Termination” is the process by which the parental rights of the birth parents are ended, or “terminated”. “Termination” of parental rights can occur in different ways, most often as either a part of an adoption proceeding, or in a separate proceeding in juvenile court.