OPEN RECORDS AND VOLUNTARY REGISTRIES
by Madelyn Freundlich
Open Records Laws and Pending Legislation in the States
At present two states allow some adult adoptees to obtain copies of their original birth certificates: Montana where an adult adoptee may request a copy of the original birth certificate if adopted pre-1967 or post-1997 and Ohio where an adult adoptee may request a copy of the original birth certificate if adopted pre-1964 or post 3/21/97.
In three states, all adult adoptees may obtain copies of their original birth certificate without any conditions placed on
access to this information:
- Alaska: Adult adoptee age 18 or older may request uncertified copy of original birth certificate.
- Kansas: Adult adoptee may request copy of original birth certificate.
- Tennessee: Adult adoptees age 21 or older may obtain "all adoption records", including
the original birth certificate. The law also provides for a "contact veto" under which a birth parent may
register to prevent contact by the adopted person, buy may not veto release of the information itself.
The law provides that identifying information may be not released when the adoptee was the product of rape or incest unless
the birth parent who was the victim consents in writing to the release of the information.
In Oregon, voters, in a statewide referendum in November 1998, approved a measure to allow adult adoptees age 21 or older to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. The provision, scheduled to go into effect on December 3, was blocked from implementation on December 2, 1998 when, in response to a lawsuit filed by birth parents alleging that the measure was unconstitutional, a judge placed implementation on hold until legal challenges are resolved.
Access laws [allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates] have been the active subject of debate in New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, and a number of other states.
Voluntary [or Mutual Consent] Registries
Mutual consent registries permit parties to an adoption to register their willingness to meet at some point in the future, but allow the release of identifying information only when a birth parent and an adult adoptee both file formal consents to the disclosure of their identities. Mutual consent registries are in place in more than twenty states today. Supporters of mutual consent registries maintain that they appropriately balance conflicting interests of the adoption triad members because registries permit each party to file his or her consent to the sharing of identifying information and allow disclosure only upon a complete "match". Critics counter that mutual consent registries do not achieve their purpose because they condition the adoptee's right to know on the birth parents' consent but do not require that birth parents be informed of the opportunity to register their consent or denial at the time of relinquishment, are often not widely advertised and as a result, birth parents do not know that they exist; and the information contained in such registries is out of date quickly.
Some states have
"search and consent" statutes which attempt to facilitate information sharing between an adoptee and a birth parent by authorizing public or private agencies or certain designated individuals - often called "confidential intermediaries" -- to locate a birth parent on behalf of an adult adoptee or an adoptee on behalf of a birth parent and determine the other party's willingness to disclose his or her identity or meet the other person. Some states refer to this process as an "active" registry. The process often requires, when there is consent, that a court then authorize the disclosure. There are currently "search and consent" statutes in place in more than twenty-five states. As with mutual consent registries, proponents of "search and consent" statutes emphasize benefits of obtaining mutual consent before sharing of identifying information and contact and they emphasize the value of requiring some level of professional mediation. Critics question the need for an intermediary in a matter involving adults and point to the time and expense that such procedures often involve.
At the federal level, the US Senate passed last session a bill -- sponsored by Senator Carl Levin -- which would establish a National Voluntary Mutual Reunion Registry. The bill provides that the US Department of Health and Human Services may facilitate the development and implementation of a process for the mutually requested exchange of identifying information that has been mutually consented to by an adult adoptee who is 21 years of age or older with a birth parent or an adult sibling who is 21 years of age or older. The bill has been referred to a House Committee - S 1487 RFH. Hearings before the House committee are anticipated this spring.
POLICY AND PRACTICE
putative father registries| open records and voluntary ragistries| state registries