An open records adoption provides a legal avenue for an adult, who was adopted as a child, to review all records pertaining to his adoption. Typically, the right is granted through a court order. Once the order is given, the adopted person has access to all records pertaining to his adoption to do with as he wishes. Open records adoptions have caused many debates surrounding the rights of the adopted child compared to the rights to privacy by the birth family.
In 2010, only five of the 50 U.S. states had laws allowing unrestricted access to adoption records, by adopted children once they become legal adults. Alabama, New Hampshire, Kansas, Alaska and Oregon all allow unrestricted access, while many other states have some form of restricted access provided to adults who were adopted as children. Examples of restrictions in other states include birth parent veto power if they do not want the records unsealed, as well as open records only being allowed for adoptees born in certain years.
Adoption information was public record until early in the 20th century. Between 1930 to 1950, society gradually decided that all parties involved with adoption had the right to privacy and protection. At that time, records began getting sealed when the adoption was complete. This was at a time in history when being born to non-married parents created a negative social stigma and the driving force behind sealing records was to protect the adopted child from scrutiny and judgment. In the last half of the century, however, the stigma of having unmarried parents decreased. Adoptees began to come forward, demanding to know about their birth parents.
Society quickly divided itself into those who were for open records and those who were against it. Those who are against open adoption records laws believe the birth parents have a right to keep their identity secret. In addition, advocates of keeping the records sealed are concerned that if the records are no longer protected, the abortion rate in the United States will skyrocket as birth mothers choose abortion over adoption because they do not want their identity revealed 18 to 20 years down the road. Those who want open records laws in every state believe that adopted children have a birthright to know everything about their adoption, including who their birth parents were, whether there were siblings and what medical conditions may have been genetically passed to them.
The effects of open records adoptions can be far reaching. For the adopted person, there is the risk of depression if the birth family rejects her attempts at contact once she has discovered who the birth family is. On the flip side, it can be medically advantageous to open the records so the adopted adult knows what genetic propensity he may have for developing certain illnesses. Open records laws make it much easier for adopted children to locate their birth parents. In some instances, this can be a positive aspect of an open records policy. Many birth parents tell of living with years of anguish, wondering how their child turned out and what she looks like now and are thrilled when they get a call from their adult, adopted, child who has tracked them down.
An adopted child that reaches the age of majority and decides to access records and find his birth parents must prepare for the possibility of rejection. In some instances, the birth parents have gone on to build new lives, have new families and may not have told their new families that they ever gave a child up for adoption. The results of a meeting or contact can be devastating to the adult who has waited his entire life to meet his biological parents. Counseling before making that initial contact can help the adoptee prepare for whatever reaction is received.