Some of New York’s adoption laws have not kept up with the times. Even though open adoption has contributed to child’s biological parents’ involvement, the state keeps birth certificates and adoption records secret. However, legislation was recently introduced which would automatically allow access to birth records for adoptees when they reach 18 years of age.
Adoption records have remained secret in New York since 1935. Governor Herbert Lehman, an adoptive father, signed a law that sealed adoptees’ birth certificates. This was intended to protect the privacy of parents who, at that time, faced cultural shame for having children out of wedlock and who were unable to care for their child.
A state Department of Health registry matches adopted children with their birth parents. However, the parents and their children must agree to be contacted. New York law is outdated. DNA testing and other technological advances along with genealogical websites, social media and television programs allow children to find their birth parents.
It also has other problems. For example, a child may wish to contact biological parents for information about their medical history and whether they are at risk for certain diseases which can be passed on to their own children.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed another bill allowing access in 2017. He criticized its requirement that adoptees petition a judge for their birth certificate and asked lawmakers to draft a less burdensome process. Other opponents argued that changes would break a promise to mothers who gave up their children with the belief that the state would never reveal their identities.
These current bills would provide adoptees and their adoptive parents the automatic right to obtain a copy of the original birth certificate. They could also receive a notation with the facts governing the adoption. Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island provide unlimited access to birth certificates to adoptees. Two years ago, New Jersey gave adopted children limited access to their original birth certificates.
This matter is not an easy one, no matter which side of it you are on. An attorney can help couples deal with adoption matters such as agency adoption and other issues that arise. Legal representation may help overcome obstacles and assure that rights are protected.