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Access to Adoption Records

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State laws differ in how they handle access to information in sealed adoption records. This document explains and summarizes the types of information made available under State law. Those wishing to access records are encouraged to investigate the laws in the State where the adoption was finalized. For a summary of your State's adoption laws on access to adoption records please see "Access to Adoption Records State by State."

Types of Information Made Available

Non-identifying information is generally restricted to descriptive details about the adopted adult and the adopted adult's birth relatives. Policies on what information is collected varies from State to State along with the maintenance and disclosure of that information. The information can include any of the following items:

Date and place of the adopted adult's birth
Age of the birth parents and a description of their general physical appearances
Race, ethnicity, religion, and medical history of the birth parents
Type of termination
Facts and circumstances relating to the adoptive placement
Age and sex of children of the birth parents at the time of adoption
Educational levels of the birth parents and their occupations, interests, skills
Any supplemental information about the medical or social conditions of members of the birth family provided since the adoption was complete.
Medical history is only rarely updated, making the information as old as the adopted adult. Past records may contain very sparse information collected at the time of the adoption either due to hesitancy of birth mothers to disclose information or to the lack of importance given to this information by adoption agencies, private facilitators, and lawyers. State laws now require collection of more information at the time of the adoption for full disclosure of heath and background information to the adoptive parents.

Identifying information is considered to be data which may lead to the positive identification of an adopted adult, birth mother, or birth father. Names, addresses, and dates contained in court records or submitted to the State Department of Vital Statistics are usually considered identifying information.

Listed below are several ways that triad members can obtain identifying information according to their State laws.

Original Birth Certificate
The original birth certificate is only one of the many documents contained within the adoptee's adoption record. Most state laws do not allow adoptees access to their original birth certificate. A few states allow adoptees restricted access to their birth certificate depending on their date of birth, whether the birth parents have filed a consent for release, and/or the birth parents have not filed a request for non-disclosure.

Adopted adults 18 or older have unrestricted access to their original birth certificate in Alaska and Kansas. Tennessee and Oregon have provisions allowing access to original birth certificates for adopted adults, and at the same time allowing birth parents to state if they wish to not to be contacted by the adopted person. A number of states, including Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, give adopted adults access to their original birth certificates when a prior consent for the birth parent(s) is on file. Access may also depend on the date of adoption. Delaware gives adopted adults access to original birth certificates unless a request for non-disclosure is on file. In Montana, Vermont and Washington, some adopted adults have access to original birth certificates unless a request for non-disclosure is on file, but access depends on the date of adoption.

Systems for Accessing Information

Registries allow adopted adults, birth parents, and sometimes birth siblings and adoptive parents to consent or not consent to have their identifying information released. Registry procedures vary greatly from State to State. In some States the registry is centralized in the State government and in others it operates across the State through the agencies or courts that handled the adoption. Also some States will not release information to a requesting party if the other party is deceased or information will not be released if the adopted adult has not received the permission of the adoptive parents. These registries are many times referred to as passive registries. Passive registries, also known as mutual consent or volunteer registries, require both parties to register their consent for release of information before a match can be made. Once a match occurs, both parties are notified. These systems depend upon parties registering, a match being found, and the follow-up notification by a registry administrator. Many times parties are not aware of the registry or they are unable to register. A passive registry has a match rate of about 10%.

Search and consent procedures authorize a public or private agency to assist a searching party in locating triad members to determine if they consent to the release of identifying information or to meeting with the requesting party. If consent is given, then information identifying the party being sought may then be disclosed if authorized by the court. In many States counseling is often required before information is received. Some States have search and consent procedures called confidential intermediary systems. States with confidential intermediary systems have an individual called a Confidential intermediary who is sanctioned by the courts and has access to sealed adoption files for the purpose of conducting a search. The confidential intermediaries are hired by the inquiring party to conduct searches for an adopted adult or birth parent, make contact with each party, and obtain each person's consent or denial for the release of information. Depending on the particular laws of the State or county, contact may be attempted once after a specific time period or the file may close permanently if the party who is being sought is not found. A few registries also fall under search and consent procedures. Once one party is registered, a designated individual (often an agency or court representative) is assigned to contact those persons being sought and determine their wishes for the release of information. These registries sometimes are referred to as active registries. These registries have a match rate of between 50-90%.

Affidavit System
In an affidavit system parties can give prior written permission affirming their consent to the release of identifying information by placing an affidavit detailing that permission in the adoption file. This written permission may be referred to as a consent, waiver or authorization form. The affidavit system is commonly used along with the search and consent system.

Veto System
A veto is a document filed by one party to the adoption in which the person registers a refusal to be contacted or for release of identifying information. In an access veto or nondisclosure request system, an adopted adult may receive identifying information about another party if no veto is on file. In a contact veto system, a seeking party is permitted access to identifying information, including an original birth certificate, but is prohibited from contacting the other parties.

Court Orders
Most States in which the adoption records are sealed allow an adopted adult to petition the court to receive identifying information. In these cases "good cause" must be proven to the court in order for the information to be given. The definition of good cause varies widely depending on the judge or State. Variations may include:

Good cause as demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence
Good cause shown in exceptional cases
A showing that the release of information is in the best interest of the child or the public
Health or medical reasons
Showing of compelling reasons
Showing that disclosure would be of greater benefit than non-disclosure
Summary of State Legislation
This short summary provides information on bills submitted in State legislatures regarding access to adoption records.

Alabama: House Bill 690, allows adopted adults age 19 or older a copy of their original birth certificate as well as the other documents maintained with the original record, was signed into law by the Governor May 25, 2000.
Arkansas: House Bill 2202, which would allow adopted adults age 21 or older to receive the original birth certificate. On March 8, 1999 it was filed in the house. The Bill died in committee on March 30, 1999.
Colorado: House Bill 1188 was signed into law by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 1999. For adoptions finalized after September 1, 1999, an adopted adult 18 years or older will automatically have access to original birth records unless a birth parent has filed a confidentiality request within three years of relinquishment. For adoptions finalized prior to September 1, 1999, birth parents and adopted adults will have access to original birth records by mutual consent.
Connecticut: Senate Bill 1274 allows adopted adults at age 18, whose adoptions were finalized prior to October 1, 1977, to access a copy of their original birth certificate. For adoptions finalized after October 1, 1977, the adopted adult must petition Probate Court. The bill was defeated in the 1999 legislative session.
Delaware: House Bill 522 allows adopted adults age 21 or older to receive a copy of their original birth certificate if no veto is filed by the birth parent. House Bill 522 has been passed and signed into law.
Illinois: House Bill 631 creates the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange. It is waiting to be signed by the Governor.
Montana: House Bill 163 allows persons adopted prior to July 1, 1967 to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate upon request. The bill has been signed into law.
North Carolina: House Bill 286 regards access to adoption records and a registry for North Carolina. On June 15, 1999 it was defeated.
Oregon: Measure 58 allows adopted adults age 21 or older access to their original birth certificate went into effect May 30, 2000 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the law. In accordance with this recent legislation, a law has been passed allowing birth parents to file a form stating they do not wish to be contacted.
Tennessee: Tennessee enacted new statutory provisions and amendments that would allow adopted adults 21 or older born after March 16, 1951 access to their adoption records which includes their original birth certificate. This legislation also allows a contact veto to be filed by birth parent and birth relatives to prevent contact by the adopted adult. This legislation went into effect September 27, 1999 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the law.
Texas: House Bill 13 allows adopted adults age 21 or older to receive a copy of their original birth certificate. On March 1, 1999 the House left it pending in committee.

This material has been taken from the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse Web site as reviewed and approved for addition to this site on January 15, 2004.

The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse http://naic.acf.hhs.gov, can be reached toll free at 1-888-251-0075,or by e-mail at: naic@calib.com.
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