New Law Will Also Provide Access to Family History, While Protecting Privacy of Birth Parents
A decades-long effort to grant adoptees in New Jersey access to their original birth certificates and family history finally came to a close on Tuesday as legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assemblywomen Angelica Jimenez and Valerie Vainieri Huttle was signed into law.
The measure, first approved by the legislature in February, was later conditionally vetoed by Gov. Christie. The legislature recently concurred with several changes proposed by the governor, allowing more time for the transition, while still ensuring that the legislation lives up to its original intent and is also mindful of sensitive privacy issues.
“This change is a long-time in the making. Throughout this lengthy process, we heard many heartfelt stories about the need for adoptees to access their birth records simply because they are facing a crisis and need to know more about their family medical history,” said Prieto (D-Hudson). “This is information that many of us take for granted, but adoptees often cannot access through no fault of their own. The final product signed today is a compassionate plan to help many adoptees learn more about themselves while still protecting the rights of the birth parents.”
Previously, the only way to obtain an adopted person’s original birth certificate is by court order.
The new law (S-873/A-1259) amends existing law to allow the following individuals, 18 years of age or older, access to an uncertified, long-form copy of an adopted person’s original birth certificate, upon request to the State Registrar: 1) the adopted person; 2) a direct descendant, sibling, or spouse of the adopted person; 3) the adoptive parent, legal guardian, or other legal representative of the adopted person; or 4) a state or federal agency.
“This is undoubtedly a sensitive issue, but providing adoptees with accurate information about their family history is beneficial for so many reasons,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). “Ultimately these records will allow adoptees to make the best possible decisions when it comes to their own health and the health of their families. I’m glad that we were able to reach a compromise on this bill that stays true to our original intent.”
“This is the right thing to do for adoptees who have been left in the dark about their family medical histories and backgrounds because of these long-standing barriers,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Adoptees have been working towards this for over 30 years and they are finally going to realize their dream thanks to the thoughtful compromise reached on this bill. At the end of the day, we are still ensuring that adoptees have access to critical information about who they are while also protecting the privacy of their birth parents.”
In concurring with the governor’s CV, the legislature also approved a change to create a transition and implementation period allowing an adoptee to obtain an original birth certificate without involvement from the courts beginning in 2017.
In the interest of protecting the privacy of birth parents, the law provides an opportunity for them to indicate a preference concerning contact with the adopted person, by filing a document with the State Registrar indicating whether the parent prefers direct contact with the adopted person, contact through the use of an intermediary, or no contact at all. The birth parent may change this preference at any time by submitting a revised document of contact preference to the State Registrar.
The law also stipulates that when a birth parent submits a document of contact preference to the State Registrar, they are also required to submit family history information. The birth parent whose preference is “no contact” will be encouraged to update the family history information every 10 years until the birth parent reaches the age of 40, and every five years thereafter.
Other changes the legislature concurred with include:
– For adoptions finalized after August 1, 2015, long-form birth certificates will be available without redaction, and birth parents are permitted to submit an information statement electing their preferred method of personal contact.
– For adoptions finalized before August 1, 2015, birth parents may choose to file a preference for contact with the State Registrar, selecting from options including direct interaction, contact through an intermediary, or sharing of only medical information with continued privacy.
In order to ensure that an adopted person gains access to their family history information, the State Registrar, upon receiving a request for an uncertified, long-form copy of the original birth certificate, will provide the requester with information regarding the birth parent’s preference for contact, as well as any family history information document that has been submitted by the birth parent.
Adoptees will also have the right to contact the adoption agency, or the intermediary who facilitated the adoption, to obtain any available medical or family history information contained in that person’s adoption file.
The sponsors noted that while nearly every state in the country seals their adoption records and withholds them from public inspection upon final adoption judgment, many have established procedures by which parties involved in an adoption may obtain information about an adoption record, while protecting the interests of all parties. According to the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform, eight states provide access in a manner similar to that established in this bill: Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee.
The law’s provisions will also apply equally to adoptees who are born in other states or foreign nations, so long as the State Registrar has received certification of the adoption proceeding or associated judicial decree or judgment.
The law also directs the state Department of Health to produce and distribute national public service messages to increase awareness of these new initiatives and procedures.