In most states, adoption records are sealed after the adoption process is finalized. Judges have the power to re-open the records, but only for people who are legally entitled to see the information or who can show good reasons why they need a copy. You can access the sealed records by filing an application with the district court clerk in the county where the adoption took place.
Who Can Access the Records
In most states, only birth parents, adoptive parents or adoptees can apply to the court for copies of adoption papers. Sometimes a close relative, such as a sibling or the child of a deceased adoptee, can also apply. Whether you can get hold of adoptions records depends on state law. Some states are more restrictive than others. In Oklahoma, Rhode Island and new York, for example, you must register with the state adoption agency before seeking the release of the adoption records. Since laws vary so widely by jurisdiction, call the district court clerk in the county where the adoption took place and ask if you have the right to access the sealed records.
Petition the Court
Visit the courthouse and tell them you want to open the adoption records – they will give you an application form, which is sometimes called a request form. Fill out the form carefully, giving as much detail as you can about why you want to re-open the record. Sign the application in front of a notary public and make a copy for your records. File the original application in the county where the adoption took place. You’ll need to bring proof of identification and documents that show how you are related to the adoptee.
Be Prepared to Go for Counseling
Receiving adoption information can be highly emotional for some people. The judge may ask you to undergo counseling before hearing your application, or the court can appoint an intermediary to receive the records on your behalf. You can usually choose your own counselor or intermediary, and you will be responsible for paying their fees. It’s a good idea to have someone in mind before you see the judge.
Attend the Hearing
After filing your application, you will be given a hearing in front of a judge who will ask you some questions about your application. Be prepared to answer those questions truthfully, courteously and respectfully. If the judge is satisfied that you have a good reason for re-opening the adoption records, your application will be granted. The judge has sole discretion whether you are entitled to re-open the records, so be aware that your request may be denied.
Collect the Certified Copies
Take a copy of the judge’s ruling and a photo ID to the district court clerk. Ask the clerk to make a certified copy of the adoption records. You may be charged a copying fee. If the judge allows you access through an intermediary, you will have to make an appointment with the intermediary.
Special Rules for Critical Medical Information
If you are an adoptive parent and you are looking solely for information about the adopted child's family medical history, then you may not need to go through the court process. Some states, including Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi and Wyoming allow you to contact the state adoption agency for this information where it is medically necessary. The agency will then get in touch with the birth parents on your behalf, and pass the relevant information along. Similar rules may apply in others states; check with the adoption agency for relevant protocols in your state.