Access to Adoption Records

In nearly all states, adoption records are sealed and withheld from public inspection after an adoption is finalized. Most states have instituted procedures by which parties to an adoption may obtain both non-identifying and identifying information from an adoption record while still protecting the interests of all parties.

Non-Identifying Information

Non-identifying information generally is limited to descriptive details about an adopted person and the the adopted person’s birth relatives. This type of information generally is provided to the adopting parents at the time of the adoption. Non-identifying information may include the following:

  • Date and place of the adopted person’s birth
  • Age of the birth parents and general physical description, such as eye and hair color
  • Race, ethnicity, religion, and medical history of the birth parents
  • Educational level of the birth parents and their occupations at the time of the adoption
  • Reason for placing the child for adoption
  • Existence of other children born to each birth parent

All states have provisions in statutes that allow access to non-identifying information by an adoptive parent or a guardian of an adopted person who is still a minor. Nearly all states allow the adopted person to access non-identifying information about birth relatives, generally upon written request. Usually, the adopted person must be at least age 18 before he or she may access this information.

Over half the states allow birth parents access to non-identifying information, generally about the health and social history of the child. In addition, 15 states give such access to adult birth siblings. Policies on what information is collected and how that information is maintained and disclosed vary from state to state.

Restrictions on Release of Non-Identifying Information

Some jurisdictions are more restrictive about the release of information from adoptive records. Non-identifying information that is generally available includes medical and health information about the child and the parent’s birth family at the same time of the adoptive placement. Some states allow adoptive parents to request that the state adoption registry contacts birth parents when additional health information is medically necessary.

Identifying Information

Identifying information is information from the disclosure of adoption records or elsewhere that may lead to the positive identification of birth parents, the adopted person, or other birth relatives. Identifying information may include current or past names of the person, addresses, employment, or other similar records or information. Statutes in nearly all states permit the release of identifying information when the person whose information is sought has consented to the release. If consent is not on file with the appropriate entity, the information may not be released without a court order documenting good cause to release the information. A person seeking a court order must be able to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that there is a compelling reason for disclosure that outweighs maintaining the confidentiality of a party to an adoption.

Access to information is not always restricted to birth parents and adopted persons. Approximately 37 states allow biological siblings of the adopted person to seek and release identifying information upon mutual consent.

Some states have imposed limitations on the release of identifying information. Conduct research to thoroughly understand your state’s limitations.

Mutual Consent Registries

A mutual consent registry is one method many states use to arrange the consents that are required for release of identifying information. A mutual consent registry is a means for individuals directly involved in adoptions to indicate their willingness or unwillingness to have their identifying information disclosed. Approximately 30 states have established some form of a mutual consent registry. Procedures for mutual consent registries vary significantly from state to state. Most registries require consent of at least one birth parent and adopted person over the age of 18 or 21, or of adopted parents if the adopted person is still a minor, in order to release identifying information. Most states that have registries require the parties seeking to exchange information to file affidavits consenting to the release of their personal information. However, eight states will release information from the registry upon request unless the affected party has filed an affidavit requesting nondisclosure.

Other Methods of Obtaining Consent

States that have not established registries may use alternative methods for disclosing identifying. Search and consent procedures authorize a public or private agency to assist a party in locating birth family members to determine if they consent to the release of information. Some states have a search and consent procedure called a confidential intermediary system. With this system, an individual called a confidential intermediary is certified by the court to have access to sealed adoption records for the purpose of conducting a search for birth family members to obtain their consent for contact. Other states use an affidavit system through which birth family members can either file their consent to release identifying information or to register their refusal to be contacted or to release identifying information. The written permission may be referred to as consent, waiver, or authorization form.

Access to an Original Birth Certificate

When an adoption is finalized, a new birth certificate for the child is customarily issued to the adoptive parents. The original birth certificate is then sealed and kept confidential by the state registrar of vital records. In the past, nearly all states required adopted persons to obtain a court order to gain access to the original birth certificates. In about half the U.S. states, a court order is still required. However, in many states, the laws are changing to allow easier access to these records. Some of the means for providing information access include:

  • Through a court order when all parties have consented
  • At the request of the adult adopted person
  • At the request of the adopted person, unless the birth parent has filed an affidavit denying release of confidential records
  • When eligibility to receive identifying information has been established with a state adoption registry
  • When consents from birth parents to release identifying information on file

State laws all have different requirements and laws surrounding information access of adopted persons. Conduct research online prior to trying to gain access in order to be as prepared as you can for the search.



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