Are Adoption Records Ever Unsealed?


As a parent by adoption, one thing I have done that is a very important part of my daughter’s life is to share her birth story. Since she has a semi-open adoption, the information that I have is limited and will likely remain so until she is able to obtain her birth records legally in her adulthood. Though some complain that the past should be left in the past, for adoptees, no matter if they were adopted in infancy or after, there is often trauma, curiosity, and a need to understand where he or she came from. This is not only natural, but what I would expect.

However, many states have restricted the ability to gain access to certain sealed records. Whether an adult adoptee is seeking to learn more about their birth parents, gain access to their original birth certificate, or just trying to understand more about themselves, there are things that they must do to receive these critical records. 


The Legality of Obtaining Birth Records

One of the things that many adult adoptees first seek is their government-issued vital record. This contains the basic facts about their birth, which is often a first step when seeking to find their birth family or more about where they are from. This contains their date of birth, city and county of birth, and the names of any acknowledged birthparents. Though in an open adoption they may already have this information, in cases where an adoptee hasn’t had a relationship with their birth parents, they would need this information in order to work with a group that helps with finding and the reunification of families. 

The vital records office keeps the original birth document sealed following adoption, at which time, a new birth certificate is given with the adoptive parents’ names on it. The original is able to be obtained by an adoptee when they have reached a certain age. In many states, the age is eighteen, but in some states, it remains 21 years of age to have the ability to begin the process to open the file. In some states, adoptees find it even more difficult to have access to their records and have to obtain a court order. 

For FAQs about the legality of obtaining an original birth certificate, click here


Sealing Birth Records: Reasons for Obtaining Original Birth Certificates

Many may ask why birth certificates and records would be sealed in modern times. Though it is true that this stems from the past where it was determined that sealing the records with help adoptees to not have to face a stigma of being adopted or illegitimate. Today, being adopted doesn’t have the stigma attached to it that it once did and there is a more open dialog with birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees in most situations. However, birth records remain sealed currently in a delicate effort to try to protect the privacy of birth families that want that and for adoptees.  Still, there are a multitude of reasons why an adult adoptee would want to access those records. 


Understanding and Knowing Your Story

It is every adoptee’s right to know their own story and for many of them, this journey starts with their birth records. Many adoption agencies have departments to help adoptees and birth families find one another and this is often the first step to doing this. Even if an adoptee isn’t seeking reunification at the time they get the records, an original birth certificate is a part of who they are and they should have that information. 

In the past, adoption has been handled poorly with secrets and shame. This is no longer the case and an adoptee that wants to learn more about where they are from should have that opportunity. 


Obtaining Critical Health Records

I know a few adult adoptees who sought their records. Many of them were interested in forging a relationship with their biological family and some wanted to get more information about their health (and in some cases, do both). Though I know many adult adoptees who haven’t filed to unseal their records, quite a few who did were starting their own journey to starting a family and started thinking about health history. As an adoptive mother, we often come up lacking imperative information about family history at doctor’s appointments and I can understand this need and desire to have this information as well. 

To Obtain Sealed Birth Records, contact the vital records office for the next steps in your state. If you have further questions, it’s also a good idea to reach out to an adoption agency that has the ability to help with these processes. If you need a court order to obtain your records, you may want to reach out to an adoption attorney as well. 


Click here for more information about obtaining original birth records.