Imagine if someone held your birth certificate hostage – and you couldn’t afford to buy it.
That is the position in which many adoptees find themselves. For most people, a birth certificate costs a meager fee to the state. Unless you’re adopted, that is. Then you can expect to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars, plus your own time and effort.
Let’s note that closed-record adoptees have two birth certificates: the original one, containing birth names, and the amended one – or as some adoptees call it, the falsified lie. Amended birth certificates list the adoptive parents “as if” they are the biological parents of the adoptee. If an adoptee follows the standard procedures and pays the standard fees like anyone else, it’s the amended birth certificate they get; a document that has no basis in reality and does them little good.
I put forth a few questions to the Adoption Database community, and I’d like to solicit the opinions of my blog readers as well:
- What were you told about the fees to access sealed adoption records?
- Were the fees more than you could afford?
- If so, were you offered alternatives – was there any other way made available to you, to access your sealed records?
- Were you satisfied or dissatisfied with your experience, and why?
Here are some of the responses I have received. Natalie says:
You can only access sealed records in NYS with a petition to the court where the adoption was finalized and by showing “good cause” which can mean anything and is up to the judge’s discretion. I had my sealed records opened and paid an attorney $1500 and the guardian ad litem $2100 in 1988. I received only non identifying information but a lot more than the NYS Adoption Information Registry gave me. I thought [the fees] were ridiculous but I had to find out about my sibling, which turned out to be 8 siblings and not one! I thought that I should have gotten identifying information. I also thought that the guardian ad litem didn’t do a very good job as he said he could not locate my birthmother and that she probably moved from the Syracuse, NY area. She actually still lived there until she died in 1991. She remarried and was going by a different name. I think a lot of people in NYS wouldn’t mind paying a fee if that’s all it took to get a copy of sealed records. You have to jump through hoops and hire an attorney, and the process is very complicated. NYS likes to discourage people from asking for their sealed records.
Being adopted through CHS [Florida], I had to pay a fee for non ID and/or search. I paid $150 for NonID and $400 for search services. [The fees were] most definitely [more than I could afford]. There were no other alternatives. I searched for over ten years before paying the search fee to CHS, because I didn’t see any other choice. [I was] satisfied because I found my family, but very unhappy with the fact that I had to pay the company who sold me in order to be reunited with my birth family, as well as, the lack of control I had in the process. All adult adoptees should be able to receive their original birth certificate from the state for the same fee as any other person requesting their BC. Other information, such as archived files of hard paper information should be available, at a reasonable cost.
An adoptee who prefers to remain anonymous adds:
I’ve already paid $100 to Lutheran Family Services in Cleveland OH, the organization through which I was adopted. Unfortunately, while they cashed my check, they had virtually no information to give me–only that my bmother was an RN and my bfather was an Attorney. That I already knew from my parents. I’m waiting to see how much Geauga County (where I was in foster care for the first two years of my life) will charge once they determine that they CAN give me my non-ID info.
My own experience trying to get records was similarly dissatisfying, as I have already described. Here in Illinois, it costs $15 for a non-adopted birth certificate. The Illinois Adoption Registry is $40, free if you include medical info, and the CI program cost me $700 in fees alone (including a $200 discount from a special subsidy), plus lawyer’s fees, notarizations, postage, and at least a thousand hours’ worth of my time over the course of two years.
What can we conclude about the costs for adoptees to obtain their birth certificates and other records?
- Fees to adoptees are significantly higher than the costs for non-adopted birth certificates;
- Fees are charged even if little or no information is available or provided;
- Adoptees pay, only to face increasing obstacles in attempting to gain their rightful information;
- Adoptees have little control over the processes for which they pay;
- Despite the costs, mistakes are made which go uncorrected.
Alicia is right in pointing out that the same agency that charged her adoptive parents for her infant self, turned right around years later and charged her for the very same information they themselves sealed.
The agencies say they need the money to find the records. I call it double-dipping. If they hadn’t sealed the records in the first place, they wouldn’t have to look in the vault, or the broom closet, or Douglas Adams’ “bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory” which is probably where my own original birth certificate is. Even worse, adoptees sometimes get triple- or quadruple-dipped, like in my own case where the Illinois CI program informed me I would have to pay the fees AGAIN to restart the search for my birth father.
There are plenty of adoptees out there who cannot afford the only means of accessing their records. Although we may not have cash, we are still voting citizens of this country and you better believe we remember it, come election season.
All people, adopted or not, deserve equal – and affordable! – access to their original birth certificates.