States with Open Adoption Records

For a long time, adoptees in the United States have had a hard time obtaining access to adoption records and their original birth certificates.

To protect the privacy of biological parents and help avoid the stigma associated with giving birth outside of marriage, identifying information and in some cases, non-identifying information, was sealed and not open to the general public.

However, things are changing and adult adoptees can now get OBC access and even request originally sealed adoption records in some states.

In Which States Can You Get an Original Birth Certificate?

The law, although changing rapidly, is not the same across the USA. Access to adult adoptees' original birth certificates (OBC) is regulated at state level.

This means that, if you are an adult adoptee, depending on the state you were born and adopted in and its state laws, you may or may not access your original birth certificate.

Here is a list of states that allow for unrestricted access to OBC:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island

How to Obtain OBC in States with Restricted Access

If your state does not appear in the above list, does that mean that you cannot get access to your birth certificate? No, but it does mean that the state laws only allow for restricted access or release certificates under certain circumstances.

Restricted access or conditional access to sealed adoption records and sealed birth certificates means that:

  • You may need a court order (restricted access)
  • The OBC may only become available through participation in a mutual consent adoption registry
  • Identifying information may be removed from the OBC (usually through redaction)
  • Birth parent and/or adoptive parent consent may be required
  • Only a summary of the information included in the OBC may be available
  • Reform legislation may currently be pending on this matter

Please note that in some jurisdictions, birth parents (and in some cases, also adoptive parents) can legally prohibit access to the original birth certificate through a disclosure veto.

Why Are Adoption Records and OBC Sealed?

Once the adoption of a child is finalized, a new birth certificate is issued and handed to the adoptive parents. The original birth certificate is not destroyed but sealed and kept confidential by the state’s registrar of vital records.

It is quite common that the adoptive family and the adult adoptee may develop a need for further information on the biological parents through time. That is the case, for example, when medical information and health records are required, or when the adult adoptee decides to seek contact with their birth parents. At the same time, it is important to protect the privacy of birth parents who do not wish to be sought and/or are worried about the stigma associated with giving a child up for adoption.

That is why all states, American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico have procedures in place that allow adoptive parents and guardians of a minor child access to non-identifying information.

In the vast majority of states, adult adoptees (individuals aged 18 or older) can also file a written request to gain access to non-identifying information.

What is considered non-identifying information?

Non-identifying information may be of great help for an adoptee to figure out their origins and culture and gain insight into their birth family’s health history. It may include:

  • Date and place of birth of the adoptee
  • Age and general physical description of birth parents (i.e. eye and hair color)
  • Birth parents’ ethnicity and religion
  • Birth parents’ medical history
  • Birth parents’ educational level and occupation at the time of adoption
  • Siblings born to each birth parent

What is identifying information?

It is considered to be identifying information all data that can lead to the positive identification of the adoptee, their birth parents or other birth relatives. This may include:

  • Current and/or past names
  • Addresses
  • Employments

In many states, this information is not released unless there is consent on file from the person who is sought, or the individual requesting access has obtained a court order.

37 states allow not only the adoptee and birth parents but also birth siblings to seek and obtain identifying information.

It is paramount that you research the specific state laws that apply to your circumstances from official sources before seeking access to your OBC or other sealed records.