Obtaining adoption records can be a lengthy and difficult task, as access to these records is generally reserved for the parties involved in the adoption process. The ease of access to adoption records often depends on the kind of information being sought and who is doing the seeking. Laws governing access to adoption records vary from state to state, with some states exercising stricter legal constraints than others.
Most states restrict public access to adoption records once the adoption process has been finalized so that to maintain the confidentiality of the parties involved. Adoption records may have been sealed and may only be accessible to those who were directly involved in the adoption process, such as the birth mother, adoptive parent, or adoptee. Even these individuals are granted access only with certain stipulations. All states have procedures that parties to an adoption can follow in order to gain access to specific, limited information from the adoption records. Certain states, including New York and Rhode Island, may require the inquiring party to follow stricter requirements, such as registering with the adoption registry or filing a court petition, before this information can be unsealed.
Certain non-identifying information from the adoptions records including the birth parents' physical information and medical history can usually be accessed by the adoptive parents, adoptee, or birth parents. Generally, an adoptee may be given access to the non-identifying information upon written request, if the adoptee is at least 18. Adoptive parents can access non-identifying information in all states. If further information on the birth parents' health is needed by the adoptive parents for medical reasons, some states will allow the adoption registry to contact the birth parents on the adoptive parents' behalf to request more information. The birth parents' access to non-identifying information such as the adoptee's health is allowed in 28 states, and 15 states will allow adult biological siblings to obtain this information.
Access to identifying information, or information that can reveal who the birth parents and the adoptee are, can be granted in most states to adoptive parents, birth parents, or adoptee if prior consent from the individual whose information is being requested has been recorded. If prior consent is absent, states may restrict access to adoption records that may reveal the identities of parties to the adoption unless good cause is shown. In 36 states, biological siblings of the adoptee may request and be granted access to such records if mutual consent is given.
In order to determine whether consent has been granted, 30 states have instituted mutual consent registries that allow the parties seeking information to determine whether adoption records can be revealed to them through mutual consent that has been filed with the state. In some states that have yet to implement a mutual consent registry, a third-party individual or agency, known as a confidential intermediary, may be legally authorized to access sealed adoption records for the purpose of finding the birth parents or relatives and acquiring their consent.