Adoption is usually a happy occasion, bringing families together and providing children with a caring and supportive family they may not otherwise have had. But there are a number of reasons why you might want to know about your birth parents if you were adopted, from medical histories to cultural concerns. That can leave some adult adoptees wondering, “Can you get your original birth certificate if you were adopted in Michigan?”
A friend of a friend recently asked me if, as an adult adoptee, he could go to the Secretary of State and get his original birth certificate. I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as that. But as for the process, this was a new one for me. So being a responsible lawyer, and a naturally curious person, I started digging. The answer, as it so often is in my industry, is “it depends.”
Michigan Adoption Records are Sealed to Protect Parents & Children
Let’s start with why the Secretary of State isn’t an option. All Michigan adoption records are sealed once the adoption is finalized and the appeals period has passed. Even while the case is pending, adoption cases are kept private. Unlike civil lawsuits or even criminal cases, you can’t look them up online or request copies of documents from your local court clerk.
Years ago, the Michigan legislature was concerned about discrimination against “bastardized” children. They were concerned that if just anyone could find out a person was adopted as a child, that information could be used against them later in life, through no fault of their own.
Sealing adoption records also preserves the privacy of birth parents. Deciding to give up a child is always a tough call to make. And when a person’s parental rights are terminated against his or her will, the information related to that decision can be embarrassing. For all these reasons, every document related to a Michigan adoption is sealed and kept private by the courts and the Central Adoption Registry.
Getting Information about Birth Parents Depends on Consent, and Timing
What information can be released to an adult adoptee, and whether you need a court order, will depend on when your adoption was finalized. The law distinguishes between identifying and non-identifying information. Non-identifying information is called that because it doesn’t disclose who the adoptee’s biological parents were. It includes:
- Date, time, and place of the adoptee’s birth
- Health and genetic history of the adoptee, including prenatal care, neo-natal medical conditions, and medication taken by the mother during pregnancy
- Health and genetic history of the biological parents, including hereditary diseases, and the cause and age of death of any deceased parents
- Description of the child’s family of origin
Non-identifying information is generally provided to the adoptive parents, and is accessible by anyone caring for the child. Identifying information includes:
- The adoptee’s name prior to adoption
- The names and addresses of each biological parent
- The names of biological siblings
Identifying information is much more carefully guarded by Michigan courts. Much of this information is included on the original birth certificate. To get your original birth certificate if you were adopted, you will have to file a request either with the child placement agency or court that oversaw your case. The court or adoption agency will then forward your request to the Central Adoption Registry for release.
Adoptions Before May 28, 1945 or After September 11, 1980
The Central Adoption Registry will issue a clearance reply and release identifying information to an adult adoptee as long as a former parent did not file a denial of consent for release of identifying information. The adoptee can use that clearance reply to get a copy of his or her original birth certificate.
Adoptions Between May 28, 1945 and September 11, 1980
The Central Adoption Registry will release confidential identifying information and any other information the registry has on file for one or both former parents only if those parents filed consents to release information or are deceased. However, adoptees during this time period will need a court order to get their original birth certificates.
Do you Need a Lawyer to Get your Adoption Records?
Whether you should hire an attorney to help you get your adoption records depends on whether you need non-identifying information, identifying information, or a full original birth certificate. It is a good idea to talk to an adoption attorney about what information you are looking for, and the process for how to get it. A simple consultation could keep you from the unnecessary time and expense of requesting a court order when you don’t need one.