Starting in January, adults born in New Jersey and adopted as children will be able to obtain an uncertified, long-form copy of their original birth certificate from the New Jersey Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics and Registry (the State Registrar). Their adoptive parents; legal guardians or other legal representatives; adult direct descendants, siblings and spouses; and state and federal agencies with official reasons, can also gain access to certificates. What does this mean for you if you are adopted, or an adoptive parent?
As we previously reported, this law represents a change that was in the making for 16 years before it was finally passed in May of 2014. Some provisions of the new law went into effect immediately, and the State Registrar soon began implementing necessary changes to its record keeping system for birth parents and adult adoptees. The law also included a built-in delay of implementation for certain provisions, however. The primary reason for the delay was to allow birth parents who were unaware of the new “open” requirements when they surrendered children for adoption an opportunity to take steps to opt out and maintain anonymity. Birth parents in adoptions completed prior to August 1, 2015 were given the option of filing a Redaction Request Form with the State Registrar requesting that their names and other identifying information be blocked from the original birth certificate. Requests can still be filed up until December 31, 2016, and they can be rescinded at any time.
All birth parents are also now able to submit a Contact Preference Form to the state registrar indicating whether or not they would prefer direct contact, contact through an intermediary, or no contact. Contact preferences can be revised at any time. The registrar will accept contact preference forms from birth parents only if the parents simultaneously provide a completed Family History Information Form, which includes medical, cultural and social history information.
The new law conforms with a national trend away from the secrecy of closed adoption and toward greater openness. In recent years, as stigma lessened for birth parents, more began to express a desire to stay in touch with their child’s adoptive family, or at least remain available to children who might wish to locate them at some point in the future. Many adoptive parents are sensitive to these desires, and also understand that most adopted children at some point wish to learn about their genetic, cultural and historic backgrounds. Some wish to meet their birth parents, as well as any biological siblings or other close biological relatives. In many cases, adoptive families need medical information to ensure that children get adequate health care.
As a result of all of these concerns, it has become increasingly common for adoptions to be “open” from the start. An open adoption may simply mean that the birth parents and the adoptive parents have full information about one another. It can also mean that the birth parents stay involved in the child’s life in some way. The adoptive parents, however, hold the legal parental rights, and therefore retain ultimate control over the degree of involvement until the child reaches adulthood.
More information about the new law is available from the New Jersey Department of Vital Statistics. If you are a birth parent, adult adopted child, or a current or prospective adoptive parent, or and you have additional questions, we would be happy to talk with you about the impact of the changing law on your unique situation. Please contact us to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our family law attorneys.
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