How to Get Your Adoption Records
The process for obtaining the records varies significantly. It depends on the state in which the adoption took place.
Adoption records are removed from public review after finalizing an adoption in almost all states. However, most states have procedures allowing adoptees to obtain adoption information. These procedures are in place so parties to an adoption may obtain both non-identifying and identifying information from an adoption record while protecting the privacy and parental rights of those involved in the adoption proceeding.
There are many reasons why an adoptee would want access to their adoption records. Some seek contact information for the birth parents to get to know them. Some adoptees want insight into their biological family's medical information.
Read on to learn more about how to get your birth records and the type of information available to you.
Do Biological Parents Have to Consent or Sign a Waiver?
It's common to close adoption records after the adoption is final. In a typical adoption, the original birth certificate is revised after finalizing the adoption. The names of the biological parents are dropped, and the names of the adoptive parents are added. A certified copy of the amended birth certificate is then provided to the adoptive family. The original birth certificate is placed in the adoption file and sealed permanently.
However, some states leave this information open at the request of the biological parents. Many states have a mutual consent adoption registry. This is a listing of birth parents, adult adoptees, and birth siblings who are open to future contact. Illinois has an adoption registry, which is a service of the Illinois Department of Public Health. If both parties consent, the adoptee and birth parents can learn about each other. California, Maryland, and New York also have mutual consent registries.
The adoption registry might also include a medical information exchange. The medical information exchange will include medical and psychological information that the birth parents have provided.
Other states use an affidavit system. Members of the birth family can file consent for the release of identifying information via a waiver or authorization form.
Getting Adoption Records From State Agencies
Adoption records might also be available from state social services and human services agencies that provide adoption services. For example, adopted youth who were in foster care in Illinois can contact the Department of Child and Family Services for adoption records.
If you can't access information through a mutual consent registry and your adoption wasn't handled by a local child welfare agency, you may have to seek a court order. The order will permit access to the vital records regarding your adoption.
Who Can Obtain Adoption Records?
Courts generally seal birth records after finalizing an adoption. But the records may be accessed if someone eligible to obtain the records takes proper steps. Typically, only certain people can access sealed adoption records. They are:
- The adopted person
- The birth mother
- The birth father
- The adoptive parents
Also, in most states, adoptees must be over the age of 18 or 21 to access sealed adoption records.
Court Process for Getting Sealed Adoption Records
Most states have procedures in place that allow those involved in an adoption to obtain both non-identifying and identifying information from an adoption record. The procedures also protect the interest of the parties.
Accessing sealed adoption records varies from state to state. However, you can take the following general steps:
- Go to the county of the adoption where the adoption took place. Contact the Clerk of Court for information on obtaining closed adoption records. Ask the county clerk for a petition form.
- Verify that you are eligible to obtain the adoption records based on your state's law. If so, you can fill out the petition form and file it with the county court to review.
- If a court date is set, meet with the judge to explain why you need access to sealed adoption record information. Normally the reasons must relate to an emergency and not a personal reason. Family medical reasons will often result in granting access to birth records. The judge has the discretion to either grant or deny access based on your reason.
- If you're granted access, you may have two options. You can either view the information yourself or (in some states) request a confidential intermediary (CI). The CI has access to sealed adoption records. The CI can conduct a search for birth family members to get their consent for contact. If the biological parents are deceased, access to un-sealed adoption records is often granted.
Non-Identifying Information in Adoption Records
Non-identifying information is generally limited to descriptive details. This information is generally provided to the adopting parents at the time of the adoption. If not, the adoption agency that arranged the adoption might be able to provide non-identifying information. Non-identifying information may include the following:
- Birth parents' age
- Physical description of the birth parents, such as eye and hair color
- Race of the birth parents
- Ethnicity of the birth parents
- Birth parents' religion
- Birth parents' medical history
- Date of the adopted person's birth
- Place of the adopted person's birth
- The education level of the birth parents
- Birth parents' occupation
- Reason(s) for the adoption
- Description of other children born to each birth parent
All states allow adoptive parents or guardians to access non-identifying information while the adopted person is still a minor. Nearly all states allow the adopted person to access non-identifying information about birth relatives. This can generally happen upon written request and once they have reached the age of 18. Nevada, New Jersey, and Idaho provide non-identifying medical and social information about the birth family to adopting parents at the time of placement.
A little over half of the states allow birth parents access to non-identifying information about the health and social history of the adopted child.
Identifying Information in Adoption Records
Information is "identifying" if it could lead to the discovery of an individual's identity. Identifying information may include:
- Current or past names of the person
- Other similar records or information
Laws in nearly every state permit the release of identifying information after giving consent. If consent is not on file, the information will not be released unless there is a court order.
A person seeking a court order must provide clear and convincing evidence that there is a strong reason for disclosure that outweighs keeping the information confidential. Access to this information isn't always restricted to birth parents and adopted persons. Many states allow biological or birth siblings of the adopted person to seek and release identifying information upon mutual consent.
States sometimes impose additional limitations on the release of identifying information, such as:
- Requiring the adoptee to undergo counseling about the potential implications of contact with their birth family
- Allowing the department or child-placing agency that possesses the information to refuse to provide the information; this can happen if doing so would disrupt or endanger the physical or emotional health of the person whose identity is sought.
Rejected Requests for Adoption Records
As previously mentioned, courts sometimes reject requests for sealed adoption records. Birth parents can also file their refusal to be contacted or to release identifying information. In some states, this occurs via a document called a “denial of information exchange." If a denial is on file, identifying information for that parent is redacted from the original birth certificate.
Need To Know How To Get Your Adoption Records? An Attorney Can Help
Access to adoption records varies depending on where you live and your place of birth. An experienced adoption lawyer in your area can advise you of your rights. An adoption attorney can also help you to navigate the legal procedures for accessing sealed adoption records.
Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?
- It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
- An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
- An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
- For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency
Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.
Don't Forget About Estate Planning
Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.