HOW DO THEY HATE US?
LET ME RECOUNT THE WAYS!
I often wonder why “the powers that be” will do almost anything they can think of just so they don’t have to give original birth certificates to adopted adults.
As new bills are filed in state legislatures asking for equal treatment for all adoptees, you can bet the farm that these good bills will not go through the legislative process without the addition of a variety of restrictions.
Legislators just don’t want to let go of our original birth certificates. They prefer to keep them impounded and sealed in perpetuity. 45 states have sealed records laws.* Some states will issue original birth certificates to adopted adults but only after any number of restrictions or alternatives have been added.
Restrictions go like this. They are mix and match, to suit your state.
STATE REGISTRIES: For a fee, you can have your original birth certificate IF your birth mother happens to have signed up on the same registry and IF she says it’s okay for you to make contact with her.
CONFIDENTIAL INTERMDIARIES: For a fee, an adoptee may petition the court to appoint a confidential intermediary - a court approved social worker - who will then get your complete adoption file from the state.. He/she will use that file to search for any biological kin. You are not permitted, at any time, to see your own adoption file. IF the confidential intermediary finds your birth mother, then she must agree to contact. If she does not agree, the case is closed, all records are returned to the vault, and the adoptee who paid for the expensive search in the first place - gets NOTHING.
BLACK OUTS - WHITE OUTS: An adoptee will be issued his or her original birth documents but all identifying information on original documents will be blacked out with a Sharpie pen or obliterated with “white out.” Variation: If one birth parent agrees to issuing a birth certificate but the other parent does not, then all information pertaining to the objecting parent is whited or blacked out.
DISCLOSURE VETO: These come in a variety of forms but essentially they go like this. You can have your original birth certificate if your birth mother says it’s okay.
Variations on this theme:
**You can have your original birth information but the state must first locate your birth mother and get her written permission to issue the documents.
**You can have your original birth certificate if you can produce the name of your birth mother.
** Prior to passing an open records law, birth parents will be given a certain length of time to sign a binding document that prevents the state from giving you your original birth certificate.
** You can have your original birth certificate if you can produce an affidavit from your birth mother saying she gives her permission.
**You can have your original birth certificate so long as there is no disclosure veto on file that was made by either birth parent.
**You can have your original birth certificate if you have affidavits from your birth parents and sometimes your adoptive parents giving their permission.
CONTACT VETO: These vetoes come in different sizes and shapes too. Basically, a contact veto is a form, signed by your birth mother, that says she does not want to have any contact with you. If you’re a “does not,” then the state can enforce penalties on the adoptee who breaks the veto. A hefty fine, in the 5 figure amount, may be levied against the adoptee. Sometimes the adoptee may be indicted of a misdemeanor and in some states, a felony, for making any contact when a birth mother has said no.
PROSPECTIVE-ONLY CLAUSES: Gaining popularity is a prospective-only clause that gives adoptees born AFTER an arbitrary date unrestricted access to their own birth documents. For example, Connecticut has just gotten a bill through both houses stating that only adoptees who are born after October 1, 2006, may have their original birth certificates when they reach the age of twenty-one. That will be in 2027. The Governor of Connecticut has not yet signed this bill into law.
MULTI-TIERED STATUS: Some states have created an elaborate labyrinth of tiers, or categories, of adoptees, based on arbitrary dates. For example, Massachusetts is about to become a multi -tiered state. Their bill says that 1) adoptees before 1974 may have unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. 2) adoptees born between 1974 and 2006 may not have access to their original birth certificates. These documents are to remain sealed. 3) Adoptees born after October 1, 2006 may have their original birth certificates when they reach the age of majority. This group of adoptees, not yet born, will have access some time between the years 2024 and 2027. Ohio is another state where adoptees get lost just trying to figure out into which category they fit. To confound the problem, many states liberally sprinkle in disclosure and contact vetoes within these tiers.
STATE COURTS: Nearly every state has a provision in its adoption law for adoptees to make an appeal for their original birth certificate to a judge in the county where they were adopted. In over half of our states, the burden of proving “good cause” falls on the adoptee. Three years ago Georgia actually voted down an open records bill, using this provision as their reason. They said you can always ask the court - no need for any new law.
Going to court is a long and expensive process. You must pay big filing fees to the county court in which you were born, and that could be 3,000 miles away from where you are currently residing. Many states require that you hire an attorney to represent you, especially if you aren’t currently living in the same county and that’s another hefty fee.
You almost never win! You can count on the fingers of one hand how many adopted adults petition a court for their own records and are successful. Westlaw is overflowing with cases from around the country of adoptees being turned down by judges. Reason? The states really don’t want adopted adults to ever have their original birth certificates.
FEDERAL COURTS: It’s extremely difficult to get a judgment for open records from the federal courts simply because adoption laws falls within the powers of the states. In the past, adoption reform groups have brought cases to federal courts, citing constitutional reasons for releasing adoptees’ original birth documents. These court cases have been ajudicated in favor of the state and not the adoptee.
Recently, a federal case did rule in the adoptee’s favor - Doe v. Sundquist. However, this ruling is not a mandate for any state to issue records to adoptees. It does open the door for state judges who are so inclined to view the privacy of a birth mother in a different light. Thus far, the rulings in Doe v. Sundquist have not been used enough to bring about any real changes in the way the individual states are doing business.
WHO'S NOT AFRAID OF ADOPTEES?
THE AVERAGE CITIZENS: They’re not afraid of giving adopted adults their original birth certificates just like everyone else. This was proved by a ballot initiative in Oregon, begun in 1998. The people voted overwhelmingly in favor of adoptees. The case was appealed all the way up the state and federal ladders, but was turned down every time. When the electorate speaks up, the “powers that be” do listen and also hesitate to overturn a measure that the voters have approved.
Ballot initiatives are only legal in 24 states. Each step of a ballot iniative is governed by specific and often difficult regulations. They all begin with a petition. Each state rules who writes the petition, what it states, how many signatures will be needed on it, what geographic areas must be represented and in what percentages, and who is eligible to collect the signatures, There will be a time limit in which to gather and file all petitions. And to top it all off, some of the states have sections stating that the state, at its whim, can overturn the results of any ballot initiative. Illinois states up front that no ballot iniative is binding.
Ballot initiatives are an extremely costly venture. It is estimated that Oregon cost $125,000 just for the initiative portion. More funds were needed to fight the inevitable court battles that followed.
*ALABAMA, ALASKA, KANSAS, OREGON, NEW HAMPSHIRE recognize the equality of adopted adults and issue to them, upon request, their original birth documents, without any conditions.
How does your state treat adoptees? Find out at: