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How to Open Adoption Records [What to Know as an Adult Adoptee]

If you are an adult adoptee who grew up part of a closed adoption, it is natural to have questions about your birth parents and biological family history. One of the best ways to get answers to those questions is by accessing your adoption records.

This guide provides the information you need to know about adoption records and how they can help you in your search for information about your biological parents and family. 

Each state has its own laws about how to access records and what information is readily available. This can make obtaining adoption records challenging.

Although this guide provides information on how to get sealed adoption records unsealed, to ensure you fully understand and follow the legal process, you will want to discuss your specific situation with an adoption attorney. They will walk you through the process and help provide the assistance needed to open sealed birth records from your adoption.

Continue reading this guide to learn more about unsealing your adoption records and how they help you find information about your biological parents and adoption.

What are Adoption Records?       

Every adoption in the United States has what are called "adoption records." These records include identifying information about the birth parents, including:

  • Their names
  • Their address at the time of the adoption
  • Their phone number at the time of the adoption
  • The original birth certificate

Obtaining your adoption records can be very beneficial in your search for your birth parents, but in most states, closed adoption records are sealed after an adoption is finalized. Nearly every state has laws in place that permit the release of identifying information, provided the birth parents have consented to the release of the identifiable information. If consent is not on file with the state, the information may not be released without a court order and reasonable cause to release the information.

As an adoptee seeking a court order, you must be able to display clear and convincing evidence to support your request. Access to this information isn't always restricted just to birth parents and adoptees. Many states allow biological siblings of adoptees to seek and release identifying information upon mutual consent, which can sometimes lead to adoptees finding their birth parents based on sibling information.

While each state will vary on the process of how to unseal adoption records, as an adoptee, you will always have access to what they call non-identifying information. Although these details do not provide any specific information about your birth parents or family, having this information can provide peace of mind with details including:

  • Date and place of your birth
  • Age of your birth parents and their general physical description
  • Race, ethnicity, religion, and medical history of your birth parents
  • Educational level and occupations of your birth parents at the time of the adoption
  • The reasoning behind placing you for adoption
  • Existence of other children born to each birth parent

Whether through identifiable or non-identifiable information, adoption records are a great place to start if you are looking for details about your adoption and birth parents.

To learn more about accessing adoption records, speak with an adoption counselor. They will have the information and resources you need to begin looking for your records.

How to Open Your Adoption Records

Once you determine you are ready to find your sealed adoption records, you will need to begin the process of opening them. If you were adopted from a state with closed adoption records, it doesn't necessarily end your adoption search, the process may be more of a challenge. 

In general, you can expect to follow these steps:

Step 1: Contact the local county clerk's office from the of the county where you were adopted.

You will be informed of their specific process, and you will likely be able to file a petition to receive your sealed adoption birth records.

Step 2: Once there is a petition on file with the county court, you will schedule a meeting with the local judge.

Here, you will have the opportunity to explain why you are pursuing your adoption records and why you feel unsealing your adoption records is necessary for you. Keep in mind, access to these records not only helps you in your search for your birth parents and biological family, but your adoption records can also provide important information about health risks and your genealogy. Be as detailed as possible on why you want to gain access to your adoption records. 

Step 3; The judge will then grant or deny your request to unseal your adoption records.

If the judge denies your request for access to adoption records, you will then need to request a confidential intermediary. An intermediary is essentially an outside source who will attempt to obtain consent from your birth parents.

Step 4: If the intermediary is successful, your adoption records will be opened up to you.

If they have failed, you will need to continue to pursue the legal process of obtaining your adoption records. If the intermediary finds that your birth parents are no longer living, access to adoption records will usually be granted.

Although every adoption situation is unique, these are the general steps towards how to get your sealed adoption records unsealed. Discussing the specific rules and laws in your state with a licensed adoption attorney is recommended. They will know the process and help ensure you are making all of the appropriate actions to get access to your adoption records.

What to Consider When Accessing Adoption Records

If you are considering opening your sealed adoption records, it is essential that you approach this situation with an open mind. Although this information may be a great starting point towards finding and potentially meeting your birth parents, there is a chance that the outcome may be different than you envision.

Prepare yourself for situations like:

  • The judge denies your request
  • Your birth parents are no longer living or are faced with a difficult lifestyle
  • Your birth parents do not intend to meet or are uninterested in any form of communication
  • You find out about potential medical issues 
  • Many others

Obtaining your adoption records can spark an abundance of different feelings and thoughts. If you feel this is a necessary piece of your life and you need to find information about your adoption and birth parents, keeping an open mind will benefit everyone involved. If you need help along the way, adoption counselors will guide you along the way.  

Disclaimer
Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. America Adoptions, Inc. provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.