How to Get Your Adoption Records

In nearly every state, adoption records are sealed and withheld from public inspection after an adoption is finalized. However, most states have also established procedures allowing you to obtain your adoption records. These procedures, which vary widely by state, are in place so parties to an adoption may obtain both non-identifying and identifying information from an adoption record while still protecting the interests of all parties.

Read on to learn more about how to get your adoption records and what type of information you may be able to obtain.

How to Get Your Adoption Records: Eligible Persons

Courts generally seal adoption records once an adoption is finalized, but the records can be accessed if the proper steps are taken by someone who's eligible to obtain the records.

In a typical adoption, a birth certificate is changed or amended to change the name of the biological parents to the names of the adoptive parents. An amended birth certificate is then provided to the family after the adoption is final. The original copy of the birth certificate is normally placed in the adoption records and sealed permanently.

While it's common for adoption records to be closed after the adoption is final, some states and agencies leave this information open at the request of the biological parents. Typically, only the adopted person, birth parents, or adoptive parents can obtain access to sealed adoption records.

How to Get Your Sealed Adoption Records: Process

Accessing sealed adoption records may require some legal hoop jumping and may vary from state to state. If you're looking to access sealed adoption records you can take the following general steps:

  1. Go to the county of the adoption and contact the county clerk to learn the rules about obtaining information for a closed adoption. You may need to be the adopted person or be of a certain age to access records. Ask for a petition form.
  2. Fill out the petition form and file it with the county court to review.
  3. 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 be related to an emergency and not a personal reason. Family medical reasons will often result in being granted access to adoption records. The judge has the discretion to either grant or deny you access based on your reason.
  4. If you're granted access, you can either view the information yourself or request a confidential intermediary. A confidential intermediary will normally have to work with a lawyer to gain the adoption information you're seeking from the biological parents. If the biological parents are deceased, access to un-sealed adoption records is normally granted.

Non-identifying Information in Adoption Records

Non-identifying information is generally limited to descriptive details about an adopted person and the adopted person's birth relatives. This type of information is generally 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 their 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(s) for placing the child for adoption; and
  • Existence 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, generally upon written request and usually when they have reached the age of 18. Nevada, New Jersey, and Idaho actually provide non-identifying medical and social information about the birth family to adopting parents at the time of placement.

When it comes to birth parents, just over half of the states allow birth parents access to non-identifying information about the health and social history of the child. Fewer states will even allow adult birth siblings access to such information.

Identifying Information in Adoption Records

Information is considered "identifying" if it could lead to the positive identification of the 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 every state 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 this information isn't always restricted just to birth parents and adopted persons as many states allow biological siblings of the adopted person to seek and release identifying information upon mutual consent.

States will sometimes impose additional limitations on the release of identifying information, such as:

  • Requiring the adopted person to undergo counseling about the process and potential implications of search and contact with their birth family before any information is disclosed.
  • Allowing the department or child-placing agency that possesses the information to refuse to provide information if it would seriously disrupt or endanger the physical or emotional health of the person whose identity is sought.

Need to Know How to Get Your Adoption Records? An Attorney Can Help

Every family's needs are different and the access to adoption records will vary depending on who is requesting them and where they live. By contacting an experienced adoption lawyer in your area, you can find out what your rights are and how to navigate the legal procedures in your state.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.

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