Adoption Laws for All 50 States and Washington D.C.

Many adoptees who have decided to pursue a search for a birth parent (or visa versa) don’t know where exactly to start.

If this is you, then read on.

The best thing you can do to kick off a search is arm yourself with knowledge of the adoption laws in the birth state. Some states allow unrestricted access to adoption records. Others are impossible to access without a court order. Many states fall somewhere between the two.

For adoptees, one of the most important documents housed within adoption records can be the original birth certificate because it often lists the names of the birth parents, or at least the birth mother.

So it’s understandable why obtaining an original birth certificate can be so important for someone searching for the identity of a birth parent.

But it’s not just the original birth certificate that can contain helpful information for a search. All other supporting documents, even non-identifying information, can prove useful.

So this is why I urge both adoptees and birth parents to first search out what records and information are available to them before they embark on a search or hire a search to be conducted on their behalf.

American Adoption Congress (AAC) is an international organization that advocates for legislation that will grant ALL individuals unrestricted access to their family and heritage information, to include access to adoption records.

Their website at https://americanadoptioncongress.org lists adoption laws for all 50 states, as well as Canada and Washington D.C., among other helpful resources.

Another fabulous resource comes from Adoptee Rights Law at https://adopteerightslaw.com. At this site, attorney Gregory Luce has also created even more helpful and in-depth information regarding adoption laws for the 50 states.

I decided to create my own list, based off of both of theirs, that gives less of a legal description and more of a concise layman’s summary for adoptees and birth parents who are considering a search.

So if you don’t know where to start, check out your options by finding your birth state below:

Alabama

Adult adoptees who are at least 19 years old have access to their original birth certificate along with court documents pertaining to their adoption that are housed in a sealed file at the Department of Vital Statistics. However, documents held by private adoption agencies and the Department of Human Resources are not accessible.

Birth parents can file a form that requests direct contact with an adult adoptee, contact through an intermediary, or no contact at all.

Alaska

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years old have access to their original birth certificate and to descriptive information about birth parents and biological siblings.

Birth parents can continually submit their name and address changes to the State Registrar to be attached to the original birth certificate, should the adoptee come looking for them.

Arizona

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years old, as well as birth parents, adoptive parents, and others, have access to non-identifying information only that may include health and genetic history. A court order is required for the release of an original birth certificate.

Additionally, adult adoptees and birth parents can file a notarized statement with the Division of Economic Security that grants their consent, withholds consent, or withdraws previous consent for the release of their confidential information. In cases where an adoptee and both birth parents have granted consent to release their confidential information, the court may disclose that information.

Lastly, Arizona has a confidential intermediary program that is available to adoptees, birth parents, and some relatives of both parties. This program facilitates contact by allowing confidential intermediaries to access court records in order to locate someone. Again, consent from all parties is required before the information can be disclosed.

Arkansas

A law enacted on August 1, 2018, states that, beginning one year from this date, adult adoptees who are at least 21 years old can submit a written request for their adoption file from the Department of Health. This file contains their original birth certificate. The request costs $100.

However, birth parents can redact their names from the original birth certificate at any time. Birth parents can also file a separate contact preference form, in which they can request the adoptee not contact them.

Current conditions allow adoptees who are at least 18 years old, birth parents, and family members related within the second degree to register with a state mutual consent registry. Unfortunately if a birth parent is deceased or the birth father is unknown, an adoptee cannot obtain identifying information.

California

Adult adoptees and their siblings, both 18 years and older, can choose to participate in a confidential intermediary process that allows sibling reunification to be made when both parties consent. Otherwise, adoptees and birth parents have very limited or no access without a court order or similar method.

Colorado

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years old can obtain their original birth certificate from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment for a fee.

Birth parents whose parental rights were not terminated for neglect can obtain copies of all adoption documents they originally signed during the course of the relinquishment of their child, to include the original birth certificate of the adoptee.

Connecticut

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years of age and whose adoptions were finalized on or after October 1, 1983 can access their original birth certificate.

For all other adoptees, the original birth certificate can only be obtained through a court order and even that is contingent upon either the consent or deaths of the birth parents.

Identifying information is made available to adult adoptees where there is birth parent consent.

Delaware

Adult adoptees who are age 21 and above can apply for a copy of their original birth certificate. However, birth parents can file a written notarized document to block the release of their information to the adoptee. This must be renewed every three years.

Once an adoptee has formally requested their original birth certificate, the Office of Vital Statistics makes a reasonable effort to locate the birth parent and notify them of the request. If the birth parent has not filed a document to block the release of their information, the adoptee is given a copy of their original birth certificate after 65 days.

District of Columbia (Washington D.C.)

Adult adoptees must get a court order to access their original birth certificate, as well as any identifying information.

Florida

Adoptees must get a court order to access their original birth certificate. If and only if all parties have agreed to share their identifying information will such information be released.

A state registry allows adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents to list identifying information when they so choose.

If an adoptee is not yet 18 years old, they must obtain written consent from an adoptive parent before proceeding.

Georgia

A court order is required to obtain the original birth certificate.

Adult adoptees who are age 21 and above can request the names of birth parents, but those names will only be released if the birth parents have submitted their written consent. In cases where birth parents have not submitted written consent, the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry attempts to locate and notify them of the adoptees’ request, then gain consent.

This method is identical for birth parents or adult birth siblings attempting to locate relinquished children.

If an adoptee is deceased but their child or children wish to conduct a search for the biological parents, they can do so at age 21 using the same procedure.

Georgia does have a state-based reunion registry.

Hawaii

Hawaii is the most open state for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Adoptees 18 and older, birth parents, and adoptive parents can all access the entire adoption file, to include the original birth certificate. The adoptee just must be at least 18 years old before access is granted to any party.

Idaho

An original birth certificate for adoptees is only available through a court order or if all parties have consented through a state adoption registry.

The registry is for adoptees who are 18 years or older, birth parents, biological siblings of adult adoptees, and relatives of deceased adoptees or birth parents.

One birth parent cannot be given information on the adult adoptee without consent from the other birth parent. This rule does not apply if only one birth parent is listed on the original birth certificate, one birth parent is deceased, or one birth parent cannot be located after a reasonable search.

Illinois

Adoptees who are 21 and older may obtain a non-certified copy of their original birth certificate via the Illinois Department of Public Health. For adoptees who are deceased, their surviving children may also obtain a copy of the original birth certificate.

However, birth parents whose children were born after 1945 may veto the disclosure of their identifying information, which deletes their identifying information from the original birth certificate provided to the adoptee. This becomes null and void once the birth parent dies.

Conversely, birth parents may fill out the Illinois Birth Parent Preference Form that expresses their desire for direct contact, contact through a friend or relative, contact using an intermediary, or no contact.

Indiana

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years old can begin the application process to receive specifically defined identifying information on their birth parents, but they cannot receive any information until they are 21. Birth parents may block the release of their identifying information, even beyond their death.

Iowa

Adoptees born prior to July 1, 1941 have full access to their once-sealed adoption records. Adoptees who are at least 18 years old and born after that date must obtain a court order, which requires them to prove “good cause.”

A registry operated by the State Registrar does reveal identifying information to both adoptees and birth parents if consent has been formerly granted by both parties.

Birth parents can file an affidavit that specifies their permission or non permission to reveal their identity to an adoptee. This affidavit is considered when the court decides “good cause”.

Kansas

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years old have ALWAYS had access to their adoption records. They can obtain their original birth certificate from Kansas Vital Statistics and their adoption record from Kansas Social and Rehabilitative Services. The adult adoptee is the ONLY person who can access their original birth certificate.

Birth parents and biological siblings can forward their identifying information onto the adult adoptee, but it is the adoptee’s decision whether or not to make contact.

Kentucky

Adult adoptees, 21 years and older, can request to inspect their adoption records, but are only granted permission when the birth parents have given consent. Where no consent has been given or birth parents cannot be located or they are deceased, a court order is required.

Louisiana

An adoptee who is at least 18 may obtain their medical history without identifying information.

A court order that cites inheritance rights, medical necessity, or registration with the state reunion registry is required to obtain an original birth certificate. This is available to the adult adoptee or the descendants or adoptive parents of a deceased adoptee.

A mutual consent reunion registry is open to adoptees at age 18, birth parents, biological grandparents and biological siblings of a deceased birth parent, biological siblings at age 18, and adoptive parents of a minor or deceased adoptee.

Maine

Adult adoptees, age 18 and older, can obtain their original birth certificate.

Birth parents can also file a Contact Preference and Medical History Form that can accompany the original birth certificate to be released to the adoptee. They can request no contact.

Maryland

Adult adoptees who are at least 21 years old and who were adopted on or after January 1, 2000 can access their original birth certificate. However, birth parents may file a disclosure veto that prevents their information from being shared with the adoptee.

All others require a court order.

Conversely, a birth parent can also access the adoptee’s original birth certificate, but the adoptee can file a disclosure veto that prevents it.

Adult adoptees adopted from 1947 through 2000, birth parents, biological siblings, and other biological relatives all have access to a mutual consent state registry that facilitates contact when permission is granted by both parties.

A confidential intermediary is provided to those who wish to initiate a search. The person being sought, whether the adoptee or birth parent, can deny a request for contact if they are located by the confidential intermediary. For adoptees who initiate a search, attempt at gathering medical information is always made.

Massachusetts

For those adopted between July 17, 1974 and January 1, 2008, evidence of a birth parent’s openness to reveal their identity must be located in the adoption record in order to unseal it.

For adoptees who are 18 years or older and either born on/before July 17, 1974 or after 2007, access to original birth certificates is allowed.

Michigan

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years old can access their original birth certificate if their adoption took place either before May 28, 1945 or after September 12, 1980. However, a birth parent may deny release of their information by filing a statement with the central adoption registry.

For adoptees whose adoption took place between May 28, 1945 and September 12, 1980, they may obtain identifying information (not an original birth certificate) when the birth parents file consent. When no consent is on file, a confidential intermediary can attempt to locate them and obtain consent.

Minnesota

Adult adoptees who are at least 19 years old can request disclosure of information on their original birth record according to this statement:

Reasonable efforts shall be made to contact the birth parents, but if contact cannot be made within six months and no unrevoked consent to disclosure has been filed, information is disclosed using the following rules:

    • for adoptees adopted before August 1, 1977, a court order must be obtained

    • for adoptees adopted on or after August 1, 1977, information is released

However, birth parents can veto the release of original birth records to an adoptee, regardless of the date of adoption.

For adoption agencies, Minnesota has a law that allows adoptees adopted on or after August 1, 1982 to access identifying information about their birth parents unless the birth parents filed an affidavit objecting to the release of their information prior to the adoptee’s 19th birthday. Interestingly, adoptees can still seek identifying information through court action if the birth parents have denied consent. The birth parents then must present evidence to support their decision not to release their information.

Mississippi

Adult adoptees who are at least 21 years old can request identifying information about either birth parent, but their request can be blocked by a birth parent who files a refusal. If consent by the birth parent has not been filed, their identifying information remains forever sealed without a court order.

It is also worthy to note that it is illegal for one birth parent to reveal the identity of the other birth parent.

Missouri

Adult adoptees who are no less than 18 years old, adoptive parents, legal guardians, or the adult adoptee’s lineal descendants may access non-identifying information about the birth parents or biological siblings.

For access to identifying information on biological parents or adult biological siblings, adult adoptees and their lineal descendants can request it, but consent must be obtained by the biological parents. Identifying information will be released upon consent or if they are deceased and the following conditions are met:

    • the other biological parent is unknown

    • the other biological parent is known but cannot be found

    • the other biological parent is also deceased

    • the other biological parent has willingly released their information

A newer law allows adult adoptees, his or her attorney, or descendants to obtain a copy of the original birth certificate. The copy of the original birth certificate contains the wording, “for genealogical purposes only.” Additionally, birth parents may redact their information on the original birth certificate, even beyond their death.

Montana

Access is wholly dependent on when an adoptee was born:

    • Adoptees born on or prior to July 1, 1967 can obtain a copy of their original birth certificate by means of a written request unless a birth parent has requested a court order be obtained.

    • Adoptees born between July 1, 1967 and September 30, 1997 can only obtain a copy of their original birth certificate through a court order.

    • Adult adoptees 18 and older who were born on or after October 1, 1997 can only obtain a copy of their original birth certificate through a court order OR by a written request unless a birth parent has blocked their request.

    • Adoptees who want to enroll as a member of an Indian Tribe can obtain a copy of their original birth certificate if their enrollment depends upon it.

The state uses a confidential intermediary system for the release of identifying information to adult adoptees, but consent is required from the birth parents.

Nebraska

This state’s laws are quite complex.

For adoptees whose adoption day occurred before September 1, 1988, they may obtain their original birth certificate if both birth parents have given their written consent. If the birth mother was unmarried at the time, written consent is only required by one birth parent. However, adoptive parents may veto a birth parent’s consent. Additionally, a birth parent’s non-consent still applies after their death.

For adoptees whose adoption day occurred between September 1, 1988 and July 20, 2002, they must be 21 years old before they can obtain their original birth certificate unless a birth parent has filed a non-consent or unless an adoptive parent has vetoed that consent. Birth parent consent is assumed unless they have filed a non-consent form.

For adoptees whose adoption day occurred after July 20, 2002, the same rules apply as for adoptees adopted prior to September 1, 1988, but adoptive parents no longer have any say in the matter.

Original birth certificates are released if both birth parents are deceased and no non-consents were filed. They are also released if the only known birth parent is deceased.

If a birth parent has filed a non-consent form, medical history is still released to the adoptee.

Nevada

Access to an original birth certificate for adoptees is only available via a court order. However, the state maintains a reunion registry that allows the release of identifying information when both parties have consented. This registry is available to adult adoptees and their relatives “within a third degree of consanguinity.”

New Hampshire

Adult adoptees, 18 years and older, may obtain unrestricted access to their original birth certificate. However, any other identifying information can only be obtained via a court order or if both parties have mutually consented to their release.

Birth parents can file a contact preference form and health questionnaire.

New Jersey

Adult adoptees, 18 and older, who were either born or adopted in New Jersey can access their original birth certificates. In addition to the adoptee, others who have access are direct descendants, siblings, or spouses, adoptive parents, legal guardians, legal representatives, or state or federal agencies (for official purposes only).

Birth parents who placed a child for adoption prior to August 1, 2015 could redact their name and other identifying information from the original birth certificate prior to December 31, 2016. Birth parents can withdraw their redaction at any time.

Note - Approximately 550 birth parents filed non-consent forms prior to the December 31, 2016 deadline. This means approximately 550 adoptees can only obtain access to their original birth certificates through a court order.

Birth parents may file a contact preference form and submit it to the State Registrar. Along with this form, they must submit updated medical, cultural, and social information regarding themselves. For those who opt for no contact, they are still requested to update their information every ten years until they are 40 years old, then every 5 years beyond that.

For adoptees born after August 1, 2015, the birth parents’ names and identifying information will stay on the original birth certificate. For adoptees adopted after August 1, 2015, they will receive a complete and un-redacted birth certificate.

New Mexico

For adoptees, original birth certificates can only be obtained through a court order in which good cause is shown.

New York

Adult adoptees who are 18 and older, as well as birth parents and biological siblings, can register with a state registry to obtain identifying information on each other. Mutual consent must be given before information is released.

Original birth certificates are only available via a court order.

Based on historical court decisions, New York is one of the most restrictive states for adoptees accessing their original birth certificates.

North Carolina

A court order is necessary for adult adoptees (age 18 and above) to access their original birth certificate.

However, current pending legislation would allow adoptees who are 40 years and older to access their original birth certificate with accompanying proof of their birth parents’ names.

North Carolina does provide a confidential intermediary program that can be accessed by adult adoptees, adult biological siblings (and half siblings), adult family members of deceased adoptees, and adult family members of deceased birth parents.

North Dakota

A court order is required for adoptees who wish to obtain their original birth certificate.

The adult adoptee at age 18, birth parent or biological sibling (when the adoptee has reached age 21), or adult child of a deceased adoptee can each initiate a search via a placement agency, but consent is required in order to release identifying information.

Ohio

Access for adult adoptees depends on the date of the adoption.

For those adopted prior to January 1, 1964, they, along with their lineal descendants, can gain access to the original birth certificate.

For those adopted between January 1, 1964 and September 17, 1996, they, along with their lineal descendants, can also gain access to the original birth certificate. However, the birth parents were given one year to choose to redact their names until March 19, 2015.

For those adopted after September 17, 1996, they can gain access to the original birth certificate once they turn 21. Adoptive parents can gain access when the adoptee is 18-20 years old. But, records are withheld in cases in which a birth parent has filed a denial of release.

Regardless of the year of adoption, birth parents can choose to file a contact preference form and medical and social history at any time.

Oklahoma

If an adoption was finalized after November 1, 1997, an adoptee who is at least 18 years old can access their original birth certificate as long as he or she proves their identity, there are no birth siblings under age 18 who are also placed with an adoptive family and whose locations are known, and a birth parent hasn’t filed a nondisclosure.

If an adoption was finalized before November 1, 1997, a confidential intermediary can be requested to search. However, mutual consent must be gained before any identifying information is released.

Otherwise, a court order is required to gain access to an original birth certificate.

Oregon

All adult adoptees who are 21 and older can access their original birth certificate, as well as other records involved in the court adoption proceedings.

Birth parents can file a contact preference form, but it has no bearing on adult adoptees gaining unrestricted access to their original birth certificate.

There is a voluntary adoption registry that facilitates searches as well.

Pennsylvania

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years old can access their original birth record, but they must also either be a high school graduate, possess a GED, or be legally withdrawn from school.

Birth parents can redact their names if they choose. When a birth parent dies, their name can be released.

The birth record is merely a summary of the original birth certificate. It contains the names of the birth parents, their ages, the date and county of the birth, and the name given to the child at birth.

Rhode Island

Adult adoptees who are at least 25 years old can obtain a copy of their original birth certificate.

Birth parents may file a contact preference form that does not in any way effect the release of the original birth certificate to the adoptee.

There is also a state reunion registry.

South Carolina

Original birth certificates are sealed. There is no procedure for access to them.

A reunion registry allows information to be shared with matches that are made, but counseling is required. Adoptees must be 21 to access the registry. The registry is also open to birth parents, birth grandparents, and birth siblings.

There is a new law that will be effective July 1, 2019 that will allow adoptees to access their original birth certificate at age 18 if the birth parents have filed a consent form.

South Dakota

Access to original birth certificates for adoptees can only be granted via a court order. Ninety-nine percent of requests have been granted.

A reunion registry is maintained that allows the sharing of information when parties consent. It can be accessed by adoptees who are 18 or older, birth parents, and biological siblings.

Tennessee

Most adult adoptees who are 21 years of age or older can access their adoption records, to include the original birth certificate. Those who don’t have access without consent from a birth parent are adoptees who were born as the result of rape or incest.

For adoptees born after 1951, birth parents and biological relatives can dictate whether or not contact is made with them. In fact, it is a criminal offense for adoptees to contact their biological family without their consent.

Additionally the cost for obtaining an original birth certificate is $150 for adoptees, which is ten times higher than the amount charged for non-adoptees.

Texas

Adult adoptees who are at least 18 years old and who already know the identities of their birth parents may obtain their original birth certificate. All others require a court order that must be obtained through the same court that granted the original adoption.

When matches are made via a state registry and consent is given, both parties are required to participate in at least one hour of counseling prior to the release of information.

Utah

Adult adoptees who are at least 21 may obtain non-identifying information on birth parents, to include genetic and social history. To obtain identifying information or the original birth certificate, a court order is necessary.

For adoptions that occurred on or after January 1, 2016, birth parents can consent to releasing their identifying information to the adoptee once they turn 18.

A registry allows the release of identifying information if an adult adoptee and an adult member of the biological family both give consent. The registry is open to adult adoptees, biological siblings, and birth parents.

Records over 100 years old are publicly accessible by anyone.

Vermont

The first step for an adult adoptee 18 and older is to gain access to their birth parents’ identifying information. For those adopted before July 1, 1986, this can be done by contacting the Department for Children and Families Adoption Registry and requesting it as long as the birth parent has clearly indicated their consent. For those adopted on or after July 1, 1986, identifying information will be given as long as a birth parent hasn’t filed a request for nondisclosure.

The second step is to request access to the original birth certificate. This is possible for adult adoptees, 18 and older, who have already gained access to identifying information. For all others, a court order is mandatory.

Virginia

To release an original birth certificate to an adult adoptee, 18 and above, in Virginia, a state agency must decide upon it when good cause is proven or a court order must release it, also upon good cause. 

The process includes (1) requesting identifying information, which (2) initiates an investigation to determine if it is warranted, and (3) applying for court review of a denial for requests that are denied. After the release of identifying information, an adoptee can then (4) request his or her original birth certificate.

For non-agency adoptions, the entire adoption file is available after July 1, 1994 to adult adoptees.

Washington

Adult adoptees over 18 can get their hands on their original birth certificate unless a birth parent has filed a non-release form. Once a birth parent dies, that original birth certificate is accessible.

All other identifying information in the adoption records can only be accessed through a court order or a confidential intermediary.

West Virginia

A court order is required for the release of an original birth certificate to an adult adoptee who is 18 or older.

Adoptees and birth parents have the option to register with the state registry, but both consents must be provided in order for information to be released.

Wisconsin

Adult adoptees who are 18 and older can obtain identifying information and/or medical information on birth parents and the original birth certificate if the birth parents have filed an affidavit that consents to the release of that information. In cases where no consent has been filed, a diligent search is undertaken in which birth parents’ consent or refusal is sought.

If consent is not granted, a court order is required to obtain the original birth certificate.

Both birth parents must give consent unless one is deceased, unknown, or cannot be located.

Wyoming

For adoptees, a court order is required to gain access to original birth certificates.

Adult adoptees, considered 18 and older, must petition the court to appoint a confidential intermediary to find their biological family member, who must also be an adult. Once that family member is located, contact is arranged through the confidential intermediary when desired by both parties. Information uncovered is kept confidential.

Credit:  Information in this blog comes from American Adoption Congress at https://americanadoptioncongress.org/state.php and Adoptee Rights Law at https://adopteerightslaw.com.