Adoptee Denied Driver’s License In Florida

If you would like to know what it’s like to live a day in the stigmatized life of an adult adoptee, I would like to introduce you to my friend Cynthia, or Chynna as she is known. I met her through an adoption support group, where she shared a recent experience that I would like to share with you.

Before we begin, let’s review the difference between an adoptee’s original birth certificate (OBC) and their amended birth certificate (ABC). When an adoptee is born, they have an original birth certificate with their birth mother’s and possibly father’s name. In a sealed-records adoption this document is amended (e.g. legally falsified) when the adoption is finalized (NOT when relinquishment occurs). The adoptive parents’ names are substituted, “as if” having given birth to the adoptee. If an adoptee follows standard procedure to obtain a birth certificate, the amended one is the only one they can get, unless they happen to be from one of the handful of civilized (open records) states.

Chynna recently tried to do something very mundane: obtain a new driver’s license. Yet, because she is adopted, her trip turned into a confrontation with police over the legitimacy of her birth certificate. I quote the following with her permission.

Yesterday, 10-26-2008, I went to my local DMV to finally change my much overdo license to the state in which I was residing, my hometown no less, Miami, Florida.

I brought with me the proper things necessary to legally & easily get a Florida license & finally be legal! I had my previous states license and my microfiche ABC, with proper seal. This is what the State Of Florida sent my parents as my amended ABC and what I have used since I was 18 for all purposes where a birth certificate was needed.

I am there for hours and finally reach the counter. I fill out forms, take the eye test, sign everywhere, etc. I think I am ready for my fabulous license photo so I fix my lip-gloss in a mirror as quick as possible!

I am asked to come back to the counter and do so quickly. One of the DMV people proceeds to question me about my birth certificate. Where I obtained it, they need the original, etc. I am not really stunned as it is typical for an adoptee. I am defensive as I think, “No one else here but, ME, is getting harassed & humiliated in this manner…no one, but ME.”.

I proceed to explain that I am adopted . She is reacting as though this is something she has never heard of and like I have some kind of contagious plague. It was clear that she didn’t believe me. She keeps my ABC even though I requested it back. She asks me to take a seat and she will be right back.

A policeman comes out and once again I am asked up to the counter. All eyes in the place are on me. I make no eye contact, except with the Officer. I reach the counter and pull myself up so I don’t feel so much like a child being scolded as I am only 5′ and the counter was at head level. So here I am if you can picture it, standing on my tiptoes, trying to balance, trying to stay calm in light of my humiliation & anger.

The Officer proceeds to tell me that I need to bring my REAL BC in before they can give me a Florida license. I must admit that I heatedly said, “Are you kidding me? Have you never seen an ABC before? I can’t be the only person in Florida with an ABC.” Now at first I thought he just didn’t want the microfiche copy. I confirmed this was not the case. As it had the seal, the book #, registrar #, etc. I said I could bring my original ABC, which my AP’s finally received later. He said no we need your REAL BC.

I explain to him that I am an adoptee and we ONLY HAVE by law access to our amended or in his layman terms a FAKE BC. Hey, I agree, it IS fake. We go back & forth for 10 minutes or so until he finally says there is nothing he can do. I am asked to leave to allow others to go about their rightful business. I should come back with my REAL BC and they will change out my license.

Their rightful business? Those with identity have rightful business and me without an identity has no rights and therefore no business that they recognize as worthy. Can you imagine the humiliation?

I tell the officer and the DMV staff member and anyone in ear shot that “If I even had the same rights as a dog in this state I would be happy to bring back my REAL BC. My REAL BC with my REAL ID that proves I am a REAL person” and I leave to go to my car feeling totally obliterated.

While at my car the officer approaches me as he can see that I am very upset. He confirms that with immigration here and post 9/11 they are much more skeptical when anything out of the ordinary comes about. So I should feel good right? A policeman is telling me I’m out of the ordinary. Meaning special right?

I go back the next day, on my 2nd day of vacation no less, with my original BC and my adoption decree. I ask for the Policeman as that is what he said I should do so I wouldn’t have to wait in line again. I know it was truly because they thought I was trying to pull some kind of identity fraud. But, I am out of the ordinary remember? I am special. Well, I would like to just be ordinary with identity.

So let’s get this straight. Chynna takes her amended birth certificate–by Florida law, the only one she can obtain–to the DMV, and gets treated like a criminal. Near as I can tell from her description it was indeed a certified copy, as is typically required. In email she also told me that she had problems obtaining her Connecticut driver’s license too, except her husband was there to talk man to man with the DMV dude. I guess it’s easier to humiliate adoptees when they don’t have backup.

I asked Chynna if she was able to obtain her Florida driver’s license. She said:

yes. But I had to bring another ABC and my adoption decree. I truly believe that if I didn’t bring my decree they might not have given me my new license.

The Florida DMV requirements are here. They say:

US Citizens

State of Florida law requires identification, proof of birth date, and social security number – if you have been issued one – from all US citizens before a drivers license or state ID card will be issued. As a US citizen you must submit the following:

One of the Following

  • Original or certified United States birth certificate
  • Valid United States passport
  • Certificate of Naturalization

In addition one of the following secondary documents is required:

  • Social Security Card
  • Parent Consent form of Minor
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Florida or out of state drivers license, valid or expired

“Adoption decree” is not on this list. Chynna’s previous driver’s license and the ABC should have been enough. She was treated like a second-class citizen simply for being adopted.

How many other adoptees have experienced the stigma of their adopted status? Far more, I suspect, than is generally known. As Chynna says:

To say the least this was incredibly frustrating, exasperating and downright humiliating. It, this dreaded adoption aftermath, continues to make me feel like being adopted was some sort of curse or punishment and it will continue to whollop me when I least expect it.

Yup. This is the wonderful world of being adopted.

I hope you will join me in expressing outrage at the Florida DMV for failing to honor adoptee rights, and consider this a call to action that we should not be treated like second-class citizens.

Personal Bias Against Adoption Records Access

Individuals in positions of power are locking entire groups of people out of their adoption records.

In some states, counties, courts and adoption agencies, certain people are known to block access to records based solely on their own personal bias. It’s common knowledge among adoption searchers that some places are much harder to search than others for this reason. Invariably the bias is against open records, not for it. These powerful individuals believe adoption records should not just be closed, but sealed in carbonite for all time. They control all avenues leading to adoption records, including the post-adoption services that purportedly exist to “help” adoptees and birth families.

Let’s talk to some people who have run into this experience. LisaKay writes:

As a CPA, I must disagree strongly with the CI system and the sealed files system as well. There is NO OVERSIGHT. There is NO AUDIT. There is NO ACCOUNTABILITY. There is NO INDEPENDENT 3rd PARTY who can verify or contradict what that one person says.There is no way that ANYONE can have any degree of certainty that 1) what they are being told is accurate and complete, 2) the CI and Post Adoption Services Units ever even carry out their job duties, 3) what the “client” adoptee/bMother is telling CI and PAS is being documented and forwarded to the other party.

Nikki says:

I have had trouble getting into my records.I have been told by Lee county FL that even if I petition all I will get access to is non identifying information.So that is a dead end since I’ve had what little info they gave me since 1994.So in my case I will have to find another way.

To share my own experience, I was told the judge in the Ohio county where my records are sealed never approves petitions for access. Interestingly, my petition to open my records was deemed “granted, in part, as to non-identifying information” – information that should be available without the expense and hassle of the court petition process. I call that carbonite, not records access. I could also mention the fact that my adoptive father was also the attorney who finalized my adoption and therefore had full access to my records, as he was the one who provided them to the court. These powerful people change the rules of the Adoption Game at whim, while the rest of us scramble to keep up.

One wonders what connects these powerful individuals to adoption. Are they adoptive parents with a vested interest in blocking the attempts of their adopted “child” (adult) to learn his/her origins? Are they affiliated with adoption agencies who might see a drop in those lucrative post-adoption profits? Or perhaps some of them have sired one too many bastards to be comfortable with open records.

As another example, let’s note that the woman who was recently arrested for child abuse, and was a leader of the Illinois Council On Adoptable Children, was also on the Illinois Adoption Advisory Council which oversees, among other things, access to adoption records. Is this really the sort of person YOU want having control over your information?

I would suggest independent oversight – that we put adoptees and birth parents on these advisory councils – except that’s already being done and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Instead, we need to do away entirely with the ability of the adoption industry to operate in a clandestine manner. Restore adult adoptee access to original birth certificates. Grant birth relatives the ability to view documents that pertain to them. Dedicate funds toward helping women in need raise their children. Make adoption rare, and about finding homes for children who need them instead of children for parents who want them.

People in positions of power may still abuse that power, but they should know the world is watching.

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.