Adopted Child’s Right to Access Information about Biological Parents


Introduction

Types of Information Accessible by an Adoptee Regarding its Biological Parents

Adoptee’s Right to Information Regarding its Biological Parents

Adoptee’s Right to Information Regarding its Biological Parent’s Medical Records

Adoptee’s Rights to any Relationship with its Biological Parents

Select State Analysis of Adoption Statutes:

List of State Registries and Forums which Facilitate Reunion Between Adoptees and their Birth Relatives

Conclusion

Introduction:

          Legally speaking, adoption is the statutory process of terminating a parent’s legal rights and duties towards its biological children and substituting similar rights and responsibilities with its adoptive parents. An adoption thus severs parental responsibilities and rights of the biological parent or parents and transfers those responsibilities and rights to the adoptive parent or parents.  A legal parent-child relationship is created between individuals who are not biologically parent and child. Biological parents are also referred by terms such as original parents, natural parents or birth parents.

If the proposed adoptee is over the age of ten, twelve, or fourteen, certain states will require his or her consent before allowing adoption. Adoption law is generally governed by state laws.  All the 50 states have statutes governing adoption. Eight of them have adopted the Uniform Adoption Act.

Types of Information Accessible by an Adoptee Regarding its Biological Parents

Accessible information of birth parents of an adoptee may be of three different types, non-identifying, identifying and medical information.

Non identifying information includes their general appearance, religion, ethnicity, race, education, occupation, etc.  The name of the agency that arranged the adoption and the facts and circumstances relating to the nature and cause of the adoption also includes non identifying information.

Identifying information of the birth parents or other birth family members are their current names and addresses.

Medical and psychological information of the birth parents may be given to the Registry any time after the adoption. The information is important to adoptees because it can indicate if they have a higher risk of some diseases.

Adoptee’s Right to Information Regarding its Biological Parents:

Whether an adopted child may want to know his or her birth parents does not come up at the time of adoption but the question is worth thinking about early on. State laws vary widely on whether adopted children can have access to the names of their biological parents.  Recent state court decisions favor the rule that an adoptee may have access to the name of his or her biological/birth parents and court records and documents pertaining to the adoption.  Generally the records would be available to the adoptee only with a court order upon a showing of good cause. See In re J.N.H., 2009 Colo. App. LEXIS 569 (Colo. Ct. App. Apr. 16, 2009).

Certain states mandate the state registrar to prescribe and make available to any birth parent (named on an original birth certificate in the records of the state registrar) a contact preference form on which the birth parent may state a preference regarding contact by an adult adoptee, an adult descendant of an adoptee, or a legal representative of the adoptee or descendant.

Adoptee’s Right to Information Regarding its  Biological Parent’s Medical Records:

In certain states, adopted children may get access to the medical records of their biological parents where states have implemented an adoption registry. The adoption registry allows consenting biological parents to submit family medical history, accessible to adopted children. States that have such registries include Pennsylvania (Act 1984-195 and 28 Pa. Code 1.49), Colorado (C.R.S. 19-5-305 (2008), Florida, and Rhode Island. This is not an exhaustive list and other states may have similar registries as well.

Adoptee’s rights to any Relationship with its Biological Parents:

The effect of the final decree of adoption is to “terminate all legal relationships between the adopted individual and his natural relatives, including his natural parents, so that the adopted individual thereafter is a stranger to his former relatives for all purposes”; when a natural parent consents to the adoption of a child by another person, the consenting parent’s relatives lose their legal rights to visitation because such rights are derivative of the consenting parent’s rights and likewise are terminated when parental rights are ended.

Public policy favors a complete severance of the relationship between the adopted child and its biological family in order to further the best interest of the child. Suster v. Arkansas Dep’t of Human Services, 314 Ark. 92, 858 S.W.2d 122 (1993)

Although, statutory declarations of public policy favor the rights of an adoptive family over the interests of biological relatives, when a choice between the rights of two parties requires a decision, courts at times also look into the circumstances to see who truly and sincerely cares for the child.

Adoptees who are now adults are generally free to seek out their biological parents.

Select State Analysis of Adoption Statutes:

Certain states like Alabama and Colorado have set up State registries provide contact preference and medical history forms. The contact preference form allows the birth parent to voluntarily include the birth parent’s contact information and provides the birth parent with options to indicate a preference regarding whether the birth parent would prefer future contact with the adoptee or adult descendant. Medical history form may be submitted with the completed contact preference form, to the state registrar. Such medical history statement should contain a brief narrative statement written by the birth parent indicating medical information about the birth parent or other biological relatives.

The records are accessible to the adult adoptee, the adult descendant of the adoptee, or the legal representative of the adoptee or descendant, upon submission of a written application form, proof of identity, and an explanation of the person’s relationship to the adoptee.

However, in Pennsylvania, an adult adoptee or his or her legal representative can access the files of the court relating to adoption only upon an order of the court. (23 Pa.C.S. § 2905). The information will be disclosed only if the natural parents consent to the disclosure of information. The natural parents may withdraw their consent at any time by filing a withdrawal of consent form with the court and the department.  No medical history of the birth parents will be released which would endanger the anonymity of the natural parents. If both the natural parents are deceased, their identities may be disclosed. If one parent is deceased, his or her identity may be disclosed. If only one parent agrees to the disclosure, then only the information relating to the agreeing parent will be disclosed.

 Some  other states which release adoption information by court order are New York, California, Michigan, Washington, Wyoming and New Jersey.  In New York, medical grounds may be considered as a good cause for the court to grant access to the adoption records.

 Florida Statute, Fla. Stat. § 63.165 (2009) provides a person who enters information in the registry an option to limit the persons to whom he or she is consenting to release this information. The persons shall be limited to the adoptee and the birth parents, adoptive parents, birth siblings, and maternal and paternal birth grandparents of the adoptee.  The registry charges a particular fee for accessing information.

Tennessee code (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-127), provides that information from any records shall be released by the department only to the parents, siblings, lineal descendants, or lineal ancestors, of the adopted person or of a person for whom records are maintained. The records shall be released only with the express written consent given to the department by the adopted person or of a person for whom records are maintained. A person who gets access to such information is generally subject to all the requirements of the contact veto process.

 

List of State Registries and Forums which Facilitate Reunion Between Adoptees and their Birth Relatives.

 

  1. Arkansas Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry, Arkansas Department of Human Services.
  2. California Search and Reunion Forum, California Department of Social Services Adoption System Unit.
  3. Colorado Voluntary Adoption Registry.
  4. Delaware Search and Reunion Forum.
  5. Florida Adoption Reunion Registry (FARR) ,Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitation Services.
  6. Georgia Reunion Registry.
  7. Hawaii Family Court Central Registry.
  8. Idaho Voluntary Adoption Registry, Vital Records Section
    Center for Vital Statistics and Health Policy.
  9. Illinois Adoption Registry, Illinois Department of Public Health.
  10. Indiana Adoption History Registry, Indiana State Department of Health.
  11. Iowa Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry, Iowa Department of Public Health.
  12. Kansas Search and Reunion Forum.
  13. Kentucky Adoption Registry, Department for Social Services.
  14. Louisiana Adoption Registry.
  15. Maine State Adoption Reunion Registry, Office of Vital Records.
  16. Maryland‘s Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry. Maryland Department of Human Resources.
  17. Massachusetts Adoption Registry, Massachusetts Department of Social Service.
  18.  Michigan Central Adoption Registry, Department of Human Services.
  19. Mississippi Search and Reunion Forum.
  20. Missouri Adoption Information Registry, Division of Family Services.
  21. Montana Search and Reunion Forum.
  22. Nebraska Search and Reunion Forum.
  23. Nevada Search and Reunion Forum, Division of Child and Family Services Adoption Registry.
  24. New Hampshire Search and Reunion Forum.
  25. New York Adoption Information Registry, New York State Health Department.
  26. New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Division of Youth and Family Services.
  27. North Carolina Search and Reunion Forum.
  28. North Dakota Search and Reunion Forum, North Dakota Department of Human Services, Adoption Search/Disclosure.
  29. Ohio Adoption Registry, or the “Mutual Consent Registry”.
  30. Oklahoma Voluntary Adoption Reunion Registry, Department of Human Services.
  31. Oregon Search and Reunion Forum.
  32. Pennsylvania Search and Reunion Forum.
  33. Rhode Island Search and Reunion Forum.
  34. South Carolina Adoption Reunion Registry.
  35. South Dakota Voluntary Registry.
  36. Tennessee Reunion Registry.
  37. Texas Reunion Registry.
  38. Utah Search and Reunion Forum, Utah Department of Health – Vital Statistics.
  39. Vermont Adoption Registry.
  40. Virginia Search and Reunion Forum.
  41. West Virginia Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry.
  42. Wisconsin Search and Reunion Forum, Wisconsin Division of Children & Family Services.
  43. Wyoming Search & Reunion Board.

Conclusion

An adoption is a legal procedure whereby the adopted child and its adopted parents are legally entering into a parent child relationship with the same rights and privileges as a biological parent child relationship. As such, biological parents of adopted children have virtually no rights to children they have given up for adoption. That being the case, adoptees who reach adulthood and desire to seek out their biological parents can do so without any restrictions other than the ability or inability to find information about one’s biological parents. In addition, State adoption registries facilitate such reunions and allow adoptees to access medical histories of consenting biological parents.