Ending decades of struggle between advocates and opponents, New Jersey opens adoptive birth records with new legislation, amending state law which has sealed the original birth certificates of adopted individuals since 1940. Beginning on January 1, 2017, an adult adoptee may file a request with the New Jersey Department of Health for access to a birth certificate containing original information prior to amendment following adoption. Others authorized to request an original birth certificate include: an adoptee’s direct descendent, sibling, or spouse; and the adoptive parent or the adoptee’s legal guardian.
The most controversial aspect of the new law with which New Jersey opens adoptive birth records is its retroactive application, argued to violate the right to privacy of birth parents who placed children for adoption with the expectation that their identity would not be revealed. To address the privacy issue, the new sections provide that birth parents involved in adoptions that are finalized before August 1, 2015 will have until December 31, 2016 to request that their names be redacted from the original birth certificate. A request for redaction can be rescinded at any time if a birth parent wishes. After December 2016, a birth parent’s name will appear on all original birth certificates and be available to adoptees.
In a provision that may prove more difficult to enforce, birth parents may file—prospectively and retrospectively—a contact request form with the Department of Health indicating whether they prefer direct contact with the adoptee, contact through the use of an intermediary, or no contact. Along with the contact preference, birth parents are encouraged to file family, social, and medical history.
The new legislation with which New Jersey opens adoptive birth records follows a growing trend toward openness in adoption, which reflects a broader change in societal attitudes toward transparency in family formation, whether through adoption or sperm or ovum donation. New Jersey joins Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee in opening access to original birth certificates in adoption.