You asked if the adoption of a minor child by the natural mother constituted an adoption
away from the child's insured natural father, and whether the child was entitled to
child's insurance benefits under section 202(d) of the Social Security Act (the Act)
as the natural child of the insured. Because the child can still inherit from her
insured natural father, and because the adoption by the natural mother did not create
a new parent-child relationship, we conclude that the "adoption" of the minor child
by her natural mother would not preclude the child's entitlement to benefits as the
natural child of the insured.
Randy J. D~, the insured, married Susan D. I~ on January 28, 1989. Their daughter,
Jane H. D~ ("Hope") was born on August 22, 1989. Randy and Susan divorced on November
17, 1992, in Rock Island County, Illinois. The Supplemental Dissolution of Marriage
Judgment Order ("Dissolution Order") gave custody of Hope to Susan (Dissolution Order
paragraph 6). It also provided that Randy would pay Susan $72 per week in child support
(Dissolution Order paragraph 7), and required him to continue health and accident
insurance for Hope at his place of employment (Dissolution Order paragraph 9). The
Dissolution Order permitted Randy only supervised visitation rights to Hope (Dissolution
Order paragraph 10). It also stipulated that Randy not use drugs or intoxicants for
eight hours prior to any visitation and during any visit with Hope.
Susan has never remarried. In 1995, however, Susan petitioned to adopt Hope. Randy
consented in writing to the adoption. Accordingly, a Decree of Adoption was entered
by the Illinois Circuit Court in Rock Island County on October 27, 1995, granting
Susan's petition, as Hope's natural mother, to adopt Hope. Hope's name was changed
to Kirby C~ S~ S~ H~ I~. Randy's parental rights were terminated at the same time.
The Decree of Adoption expressly referenced the Dissolution Decree, and Randy's obligation
to pay $72 per week in child support. It did not indicate whether the obligation to
pay child support was rescinded or modified. On January 8, 1996, the Deputy State
Registrar for the Iowa Department of Public Health issued a modified birth certificate,
listing Hope's new names. The certificate identified Susan as Hope's mother. Randy's
name did not appear on the modified birth certificate; the space for "father" was
Prior to the adoption, Randy was making regular child support payments. After the
adoption, however, he stopped making payments. No new support decree was issued, and
the record does not indicate whether the original support decree was rescinded. There
is a hearsay suggestion in the record that Randy stopped paying child support not
because of the adoption, but because he lost his job. By 2002, however, Randy was
making substantial earnings. At some point in 2002, Susan contacted the Department
of Human Services in Rock Island, Illinois, regarding child support. On December 31,
2002, the Division of Child Support Enforcement of the Illinois Department of Public
Aid informed the Circuit Court Clerk of Rock Island (Illinois) County that it was
providing child support enforcement services against Randy, and that the Department
was authorized to collect child support payments. However, Randy died on December
As here pertinent, section 202(d)(1) of the Act (42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)) provides that
"[e]very child of an individual . . . who dies a fully or currently insured individual,
[shall be entitled to child's insurance benefits] if such child [among other things]
. . . was dependent upon such individual . . . at the time of such death." Thus, an
applicant must establish that she is the child of the insured and that she was dependent
upon him at his death. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(1).
As we explain below, the adoption of the applicant by someone other than the insured
may affect the status of the applicant as the insured's child and the criteria that
the child must meet to establish dependency on the insured.
A. The Parent-Child Relationship.
A child-applicant can establish the requisite relationship to an insured individual
by showing that she could inherit the insured's personal property as his child under
the relevant state's laws of intestate succession. Section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act
(42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A)); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(b); POMS GN 00306.001C.1.a.
Illinois law recognizes that adoption is a creation of statute, unknown at common
law, which ordinarily "is the legal and social process by which a nonbiological parent-child
relationship is created." In re M.M., 619 N.E.2d 702, 708 (Ill. 1993). Thus, under the Illinois Adoption Act, adoption
usually severs all legal and natural rights between children and their biological
parents. 750 ILCS § 50/17; In re M.M., 619 N.E.2d at 708. However, under the Illinois Probate Act, an adoptive child is
nonetheless deemed the child of both natural parents for inheritance purposes if the
child "is adopted by a descendant or a spouse of a descendant of a great-grandparent
of the child." 755 ILCS §5/2-4(d)(1); In re Estate of Snodgrass, 784 N.E.2d 431, 434 (Ill App. Ct. 2003) (under Probate Act, natural children who
had been adopted by stepfather had standing to challenge natural father's will). Under
the Illinois case law and statutes cited above, because Hope was adopted by a descendant
of her great-grandparents (i.e., her mother), she is deemed to be Randy's natural child for inheritance purposes under
Illinois law. Therefore, Hope can establish the requisite parent-child relationship
under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act and the Social Security regulations, regardless
of the adoption by her natural mother.
The remaining issue is whether Hope satisfies the tests for establishing dependency
on Randy, her insured natural parent. According to section 202(d)(3), a child is generally
"deemed dependent upon . . . [her] father or adopting father . . . at the time specified
in paragraph (1)(C)" -- here, the time of the insured individual's death. See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.361(a). However, the requisite dependency would not be satisfied if
that natural parent "was not living with or contributing to the support of such child
and . . . (B) such child has been adopted by some other individual." (Emphasis added.) Section 202(d)(3) of the Act. In describing this requirement,
the regulations state that if the child is "legally adopted by someone other than
the insured (natural parent) during the insured's lifetime," the child generally must
show that the insured was either living with her or contributing to her support when
the insured died. 20 C.F.R. § 404.361(b). Susan is a person "other than" Randy,
The term "adopted" is not defined in the Social Security Act. Moreover, the term is
not defined or explained in the Commissioner's regulations that interpret section
202(d)(3) of the Act, 20 C.F.R. § 404.361. Statutory language that is not defined
by the statute is interpreted "in accord with its ordinary or natural meaning" in
the context of the relevant statutory scheme. Smith v. U.S., 508 U.S. 223, 228 (1993); Bailey v. U.S., 516 U.S. 137, 145 (1995); King v. St. Vincent's Hospital, 502 U.S. 215, 221 (1991).
According to the applicable definitions found in dictionaries, the term "adopt" means
"[t]o take into one's family legally and raise as one's own child," American College Dictionary 17 (1970), and "to take or receive into any kind of new relationship." Webster's II New College Dictionary 15 (1995). Black's Law Dictionary (6th Edition), page 49, defines the term "adoption" even more specifically:
Legal process pursuant to state statute in which a child's legal rights and duties toward his natural parents are terminated and
similar rights and duties toward his adoptive parents are substituted. To take into one's family the child of another and give him or her the rights, privileges, and duties of a child and heir. The procedure
is entirely statutory and has no historical basis in common law. * * *
(Emphasis added.) Likewise, as noted above, Illinois law recognizes that adoption
ordinarily "is the legal and social process by which a nonbiological parent-child relationship is created." In re M.M., 619 N.E.2d 702, 708 (Ill. 1993) (emphasis added). As so defined, the legal process
of adoption does more than sever the prior parental relationship if the natural parent
is living; it establishes a new parent-child relationship between persons who were not related as parent and child
already. The record reasonably suggests that Susan adopted her biological child, Hope,
not to create a new parent-child relationship, but rather to terminate Randy's parental
We found nothing in the legislative history of section 202(d)(3) of the Act indicating
Congress contemplated that "adopted" means anything other than the ordinary meaning
of the term as described above. We have found no case law directly applying section
202(d)(3) of the Act or 20 C.F.R. § 404.361(b) in the context of the adoption of a
child by her natural parent to sever the parental rights of the insured natural parent.
Thus, we believe that the Agency reasonably can interpret the term "adopted" in the
context of section 202(d)(3)(B) of the Act and the Agency's regulations at 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.361 to refer only to legal action that creates a new parent-child relationship,
although this may not be the only possible interpretation of the term. There is nothing
in the Agency's regulations to the contrary.
The Office of Program Law, Office of the General Counsel, concurs in these views.
We also consulted with staff in the Office of Income Security Programs, and they have
no objections to this interpretation.
Hope's status as Randy's natural child, and her right to inherit from Randy even after
the adoption, is not in dispute. Hope's adoption by Susan terminated Randy's parental
rights without creating a new parent-child relationship between Hope and someone other
than Randy. Although Randy's parental rights were severed as a result of the adoption
by Susan (Hope's natural mother), Hope was not "adopted" according to the ordinary
meaning of the term as discussed above. Under this reasonable interpretation of section
202(d)(3) of the Act and 20 C.F.R. § 404.361, Hope was not adopted by someone other
than Randy, and she would be deemed dependent on Randy, her natural father.
 Hope was born in Davenport, Iowa.
 As pertinent here, 20 C.F.R. § 404.361 states:
(a) Dependency of natural child. If you are the insured's natural child, as defined
in § 404.355, you are considered dependent upon him or her, except as stated in paragraph
(b) of this section.
(b) Dependency of natural child legally adopted by someone other than the insured.
(1) Except as indicated in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, if you are legally adopted
by someone other than the insured (your natural parent) during the insured's lifetime,
you are considered dependent upon the insured only if the insured was either living
with you or contributing to your support at one of the following times:
(ii) When the insured died . . . .
(Emphasis added.) Paragraph (b)(2) of 20 C.F.R. § 404.361 does not apply in Hope's
case. Her "adoption" occurred before she applied for child's insurance benefits and
Randy had no period of disability that lasted until his death.
"Support" includes ordinary and customary items for the child's maintenance, including
food, shelter, or routine medical care. 20 C.F.R. § 404.366(a)(1). The insured's contributions
must be made regularly, and must be large enough to constitute an important part of
the child's living expenses. 20 C.F.R. § 404.366(a)(2); POMS RS 01301.005A. If there are temporary interruptions in a pattern of contribution, the child may
still be deemed "supported by" the insured as long as the interruptions were caused
by circumstances beyond the insured's control, such as illness or unemployment, and
no-one else assumed responsibility for supporting the child on a permanent bases.
20 C.F.R. § 404.366(a)(3); POMS RS 01301.005E. Although Hope retained her right to inherit from Randy, Randy did not make regular
contributions to Hope's support for more than six years prior to his death, and he
was not living with Hope at any relevant time described in section 202(d) of the Act
and the regulations. Thus, if Susan (Hope's natural mother) had "adopted" Hope within
the meaning of section 202(d)(3)(B) of the Act, then Hope might not be able to establish
her dependency on Randy at the time of his death as required by the Act for her to
be entitled to child's insurance benefits on Randy's earnings record.
 Illinois law is clear that divorce courts lack jurisdiction to terminate parental
rights permanently, even when both parties stipulate to the termination. Patrick v. Patrick, 374 N.E.2d 1084, 1085 (Ill. App. Ct. 1978). Only the Adoption Act, 750 ILCS § 50/1et
seq., and Juvenile Court Act, 705 ILCS § 405/1 et seq., give Illinois courts authority
to terminate parental rights. In re Marriage of Rhodes, 760 N.E.2d 592, 595 (Ill. App. Ct. 2001). In Juvenile Court, parental rights may
be terminated if the parent is deemed unfit. See 705 ILCS § 405/1-2. While a person's fitness to be a parent may arise in contested
adoptions, it is apparent that no such finding is required in the case of uncontested
adoptions, like Hope's. Thus, the adoption of her own natural legitimate child may
have been the most effective way for Susan to obtain the termination of Randy's parental
rights without forcing Randy to contest the termination of rights or to admit, explicitly
or implicitly, that he was an unfit parent. We note that on June 24, 2004, the Illinois
Appellate Court held that part of the Illinois Adoption Act's definition of "unfit
parent" violated the Illinois Constitution's guarantee of due process. In re Amanda D., 811 N.E.2d 1237 (Ill. App. C. 2004). The holding in that case does not affect our
 The original version of the provisions currently in section 202(d)(3) of the Act
were enacted in 1939 as section 202(c) of the Act by section 201 of Pub. L. No. 76-379.
The provisions were moved to paragraph (d)(3) by section 101(a) of Pub. L. No. 81-734
in 1950, and there have been several amendments of the provision since then. However,
the substance of the language that is pertinent here has not changed. The legislative
reports on the original provisions and subsequent amendments merely paraphrase the
statutory language under scrutiny here.
 A legal opinion from Dallas-OGC, Memorandum from Regional Chief Counsel, Dallas,
to Regional Commissioner, Dallas, Texas Law Status of Child Adopted in Arkansas Court Action During NH's Lifetime-ACTION (Oct. 2, 2002), also addressed whether a child adopted by her natural mother could
receive child's benefits from a natural father who was neither living with nor supporting
her. That opinion concluded that 20 C.F.R. § 404.361(b) should not apply to an adoption
the purpose of which was to terminate one natural parent's parental rights and which
did not create a new parent-child relationship.