So it seems kind of obvious, but I thought it might be instructive to start the Adoption Glossary series with the definition of adoption. Adoption is the legal process by which you become the parent of a child who is not your biological child. This means that you assume all rights and responsibilities for that child as if he/she/they are born to you (this is actually the phrase you hear at many court hearings – “as if they were born to you”.) The child is the legal heir of the adoptive parents and has all the rights and privileges inherent to being someone’s child.
Sounds simple enough, but I assure you the process is never quite as simple as the definition. Now that we know what adoption IS it is equally important to make sure we know what it IS NOT. Adoption is not informal; it is an inherently formal process that has to be recognized both legally and socially. While you hear that in some cultures adoption is informal or kinship adoption is common, when it comes to some of the most important aspects it must be formal to truly be adoption. For instance, if an adoption is not formalized or finalized, the child may not inherit your property when you pass away. You may not be recognized as the parent for medical or educational decisions. The bigger issue is if your authority as a parent is not legally defined, the status of the child is not either. Anyone, whether birth parents, other relatives or those outside the family, could claim that the child is better off with them and fighting that could be costly both monetarily and relationally. Most agree that a stable family unit is best for a child's development, and adoption ensures that your child is recognized as your child. Adoption is not guardianship – when an adoption is finalized the adoptive parents are the legal parents, and the birth parents are not. The birth parents cannot “take the child back” or request the child be returned unless they can prove fraud or duress. That does not mean that contact is not an option, but it does clearly define who is the parent and who is not. Parents, this means that you must raise this child as your own and put the child’s best interests ahead of your own. What we must all realize that at the heart of adoption is the child and his/her/their best interest.
Bottom line: adoption is about finding the best family for a child who needs a home.