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Adoption: Obtaining Birth Records

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Open records refers to a system in which the adopted adult can request his original birth certificate, and it will be provided. No court orders are needed.

Open Records

Open records refers to a system wherein the adopted adult can request his original birth certificate with the names of both biological parents, and it will be provided. Obviously the search process is much easier when the names of the birthparents are known. At present, Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, New Hampshire, and Oregon have open records systems. (The New Hampshire law passed in 2004.) Tennessee also allows some individuals to open their records, but it is a more complex system than in the other states.

Many adoption groups are eager to institute open records laws, so that adopted adults in any state can gain access to their original birth certificates for the asking. This information won't help adopted adults who are seeking medical or social information but who do not wish to make contact with the birthparent in order to gain this information. Instead, the original birth certificate provides only the identifying information on birthparents.

Petitioning the Court

Many states do not have mutual consent registries, confidential intermediary systems, or open records; in those states, if an adopted adult wants to open his birth records, he must obtain a court order to do it. To obtain a court order, the adoptee must convince a judge that it's a good idea for the records to be opened.


Searching for a Past: The Adopted Adult's Unique Process of Finding Identity, by Jayne Schooler (Pinon, Colorado Springs, CO, 1995), emphasizes both the practical and emotional aspects of searching for birthparents.

There are also general “people-finding” books, such as The Complete Idiot's Guide to Private Investigating, by Steven Kerry Brown.

An adopted adult who chooses to go before a judge should be prepared to state why he needs to see his records. If there is a medical necessity (for example, the adopted person needs a bone marrow transplant), most judges would agree to open the records but generally will try to discreetly obtain the information from birthparents and their consent before releasing information to the adoptee. Sheer curiosity, on the other hand, is often not convincing enough to a judge.

Documentation—such as a letter from a physician, psychologist, or counselor stating that the adoptee needs the information to deal with issues he's struggling with—might help. It's also a good idea for the adoptee to prepare counter-arguments for every reason why a judge would say “no.”

Judges hold varying opinions on whether or not adoptees should have access to their birth records. Adopted adults who want to approach a judge should consult an attorney in their state of birth about the best way to do so.

I'm All Grown Up! Contacting the Agency

Another way that some adopted adults find birthparents is by asking the adoption agency that originally arranged the placement. The agency may have a policy to release information if the birthparent agrees.

Adopted adults who are interested should speak with the agency director or social worker. If the contact says no, he or she may still be a source of good information about alternative search methods.

The theory is that if the agency has a policy to provide identifying information, things will work out well. However, the implementation isn't always effective.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption © 2004 by Christine Adamec. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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