Those Who Cannot Afford Their Adoption Records

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.

Alicia says:

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.

In New York, Natalie could have gotten her birth certificate for $30 if she wasn’t adopted. Similarly, Alicia’s Florida birth certificate could have cost $9, and anonymous’ in Ohio, $16.50.

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.


  1. As I read this a couple of things passed through my mind.

    #1 When civil servants are forced to do something they really don’t want to do they are masters at making it difficult. This is a system that really isn’t a system.

    #2 So much for equality before the law.

    Some day to amuse (or frustrate the bejeezus out of my self) I am tempted to ask for the records of my “adoption counselling”. Even though I have met my son, I bet I will have a fight to get them.

    Don’t you see – sometime we have to be protected from ourselves.

    I don’t like in New York state but I am looking across the border at it as I type.

  2. http://Anonymous says

    Wow well said! Dont you just love how the goverment decides if & how you will know anything about yourself! I guess if you’re rich its isnt so much a problem but for the rest of us too bad.You are a wonderful writer keep up the great work.

  3. # What were you told about the fees to access sealed adoption records?

    Pennsylvania – $65 to petition the court. If it was approved, then the fee to release would be $250. Since the Orphan’s Court judge has been in this seat though, he has never approved a request.

    # Were the fees more than you could afford?

    When I was younger, yes.

    # If so, were you offered alternatives – was there any other way made available to you, to access your sealed records?

    I wasn’t ‘offered’ alternatives, but I went the alternate PI route. There was no way I could have gone the PI route until this stage in my life. Even then, it was no small amount.

    # Were you satisfied or dissatisfied with your experience, and why?

    Eh. Neither. I’m extremely satisfied with the services provided by the PI, because I have my name and genealogy. However I’m extremely dissatisfied that there is a court record on me that I am not allowed to see. It’s not right that I need to dip into my home equity just to get my name, and I still don’t have my OBC

  4. It was 1976 when I started searching and at that time Catholic Charities (CC) did not charge for non-id. Off the top of my head I don’t recall how many years later it was that I asked CC for more medical information. They wanted $75 for it. I quoted an IL state law to a social worker about a person having a right to their medical records for only copying fees. I was given the medical information and was not charged any copying fees! I’m not sure if this IL state law remains the same today or not. But I did let CC know exactly how I felt about their charging for non-id. I think that the bottom line is that searching has become very popular and agencies have done nothing but “cashed in”.

    Adoptees and birth parents are being taken advantage of while others have continued to request their birth certificates with the fees only being raised by small amounts over the years. There is no fairness to it.

    Election time is when we need to “weed out” the legislators who do not support open records.

  5. I suggest you contact Marilyn Waugh at Social and Rehabilitation Services in Topeka, Kansas for a look at the RIGHT way to do it. She’s a birthmom who now does the Kansas birthrecord searches – and is paid by the State to do so, at no charge (I think) to the adoptee. EVERY state should adopt the Kansas model! She’s also a great search angel, and heads the Topeka Triad group and has been involved in thousands of reunions.
    In my own case, since I was born and adopted from Missouri (though my birth AND adoptive parents were from Kansas) I have had to go the expensive route. Right now, after finding my birth mother on my own, I’m trying to identify my birth father, which will be $300 to a confidential intermediary, but I’ve about run out of leads since my birth mother refuses to talk to me nor name him.

  6. At the risk of getting my head bit off, I have a question…

    If all parties involved agreed that everything would be kept “secret,” what is unfair about that?

    I’m an adoptee. I’ve known my entire life. My natural father was married with children and having an affair with a young lady who (duh) became pregnant.

    He apparently paid for everything, but wanted it all kept under wraps because of his “other,” “real” family.

    I know what I do know because the elderly mother of my birth mother contacted Oprah and asked for her help with finding me. (My natural mother died in the late 1970s, and now her mother was in the process of dying and wanted to find me…).

    Without delving more into that situation (which was a pain in the neck, to say the least), I do understand why my birth father would want things kept “secret.” Sure, I think he’s a slimeball for fooling around on his wife and family, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t understand why he wanted everything to be kept hush, hush.

    Again, I’m just curious here. I’m certainly not trying to stir anything up. This guy obviously wants nothing to do with me, and I don’t need anything to do with him. (Like you, I have two offspring, who are my only true known blood relatives…).

    Take care.


  7. Hi G – Not at all, that’s a good question. My answer to you is: because in closed adoptions, all parties do NOT agree to secrecy.

    Adoptees have no say in the adoption process, because most of us are adopted as infants or minors. Our birth certificates are amended without our consent. When we become adults, we should have the same access to our original birth certificates as the non-adopted. That is the only way to give us a say in the matter.

    If you don’t want to know, that’s your choice. But other adoptees who do should have that ability.

    It’s not our responsibility to be the keepers of other peoples’ secrets, especially at the expense of our own origins.

    It is very commonly assumed that adult adoptee records access = search and reunion, but they are separate things. A person’s right to his or her origins should be a given, regardless of whether or not he or she decides to contact birth relatives.

    Post adoption programs confuse these two matters, and force adoptees to contact birth relatives to gain information. It would be easier on everyone, not to mention cheaper, if the records were simply open.

    You can’t “pay for everything” to keep it “under wraps,” especially since “it” refers to a human being. Births are public events, and no one lives in a vacuum. I don’t think any of us adoptees are out to harm our birth families in any way. We just want the same access to our origins as anyone else – no expensive intermediaries, no “we can’t find your file” or “you have to pay another fee” or “see this shrink first.” It’s humiliating, degrading, and unnecessary, in my experience.

    What do others think?

  8. I’m with you, triona. No one should have to pay extra to get their OBC, and mothers were never promised “privacy.” The whole privacy thing was designed to kick mothers to the curb, to appease the adoptive family.

    As a mother, I would also like the right to get a copy of the OBC, the one with MY name on it. After all, I am the person who gave birth!

    Nerdgarden, if you don’t want to know, that’s your perogative. But others do want to know and have a fundamental right to unaltered records.

  9. And… if you really want to be sick, there’s this USA Today column about how to save money using adoption tax credits.

    Plenty of money available if you want to adopt – but if you are adopted or a birth relative, tough.

  10. Re: adoption tax credits…the work of adoption industry lobbyists.

    Adoptees (and mothers) – we need our own lobbyists, then we might get some results! Although I’m sure we would be out-funded exponentially.

  11. Thanks both of you for your responses. Now I feel embarrassed by referring to even myself as an “it.” Yikes.

    I understand the point now, much more clearly than I had before. I never really thought about it that way.

    I definitely blurred the “reunion” part of it into my logic.

    Thanks again for the clarification–I’ve now knocked myself in the head in a “could have had a V8” sort of way. 🙂

    I assume that my biological father is probably dead–I’m 38 years old and surely he was somewhat old if he already had a family and had money and was fooling around with “Carol.”

    I was born in Cook County, Illinois, so I’m guessing the bureaucratic red tape involved will be nearly infinite, but maybe I’ll do some digging and see what I can see.

    Thanks again. I think I’ll probably stick around here as well, as I’ve enjoyed reading what you’ve blogged about.


  12. G – That “V8” feeling is the sudden realization you’ve been living under assumptions you didn’t know you had. We all know that feeling! For me, it happened about ten years ago. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked more about my adoption, wondered why I hadn’t asked myself these questions before. We are truly brainwashed by a society that views our experience in exclusively positive terms.

    I don’t think you can assume your birth parents are dead, you never know what you may find.

    I have a page for Illinois searchers at:

    Also try these resources for the basics on how to begin an adoption search.

    You’ll want to sign up for ISRR (Soundex) and the Illinois Adoption Registry (free if you do medical), but for pity’s sake don’t do the Confidential Intermediary Program without reading the rest of my blog (I had a dissatisfactory experience, as have others in IL and elsewhere).

    We’ve all been taught that adoption is a one-time event, but it’s really a lifelong experience. Part of that experience is realizing that you’re living under (your own or others’) assumptions. There is a lot of misinformation about adoption out there and I would rather see us talk about it openly and honestly.

    Thanks for reading! I’m glad you’re enjoying it here, and I appreciate your comments. For every one of us who posts a question there are those reading silently and asking the same thing, so I’m glad you spoke up.