Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting for another and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from the original parent or parents. Unlike guardianship or other systems designed for the care of the young, adoption is intended to effect a permanent change in status and as such requires societal recognition, either through legal or religious sanction. Historically, some societies have enacted specific laws governing adoption; where others have tried to achieve adoption through less formal means, notably via contracts that specified inheritance rights and parental responsibilities without an accompanying transfer of filiation. Modern systems of adoption, arising in the 20th century, tend to be governed by comprehensive statutes and regulations.
Adoption has a long history in the Western world, closely tied with the legacy of the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. Its use has changed considerably over the centuries with its focus shifting from adult adoption and inheritance issues toward children and family creation; its structure moving from a recognition of continuity between the adopted and kin toward allowing relationships of lessened intensity.