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Understanding Adoption Records in California [A Primer]

If you’re a birth parent or adoptee, have you ever wondered how find the information contained in California adoption records?

Finding a way to access adoption records in California can be difficult because California is one of many states that seals adoption records. They can only be opened under certain circumstances, though adult adoptees can gain non-identifying information about birth parents and their medical history.

California adoption records law does provide a way to get non-identifying adoption information if both parties provide consent. A licensed confidential intermediary can review sealed adoption records in California with the agreement of the parties involved, which means unsealing adoption records in California is possible.

This guide to adoption records for California isn’t meant to serve as legal advice. You should always consult an adoption attorney if you want to open adoption records in California. For now, read on to learn more about adoption record searches and how to open adoption records in California.

1. What is an adoption records search in California?

An adoption records search in California begins when one of the three members of the adoption triad (the adoptee, adoptive parents, and birth parents) wants to find information about the birth and placement. These searches are necessary because, historically, the majority of adoptions were closed. No information was exchanged between the involved parties.

Today, most adoption professionals like American Adoptions encourage open adoptions, so adoption records searches may not be as common. For example, in an open adoption in California, our team can ensure that the desired information is shared and contact is made between members of the adoption triad.

2. Who engages in an adoption records search in California?

Any member of the adoption triad can initiate an adoption records search in California. Nonidentifying information is available to an adoptee who is 18 or older or the adoptive parent of an adoptee under 18. Identifying information is available to an adoptee who is 21 or older, the birth parent of an adult adoptee, or the adoptive parent of an adoptee under 21.

3. Why would you want to begin an adoption records search in California?

For many people, the reasons for doing so are obvious. Adoptees may seek closure or want an explanation for why they were placed for adoption. Sometimes, adoption records searches are needed to access birth family medical information for adoptees and their adoptive parents. Some birth parents struggle with the lack of knowledge about their child’s life after placement and seek information for closure.

4. Are adoption records for California publicly available?

The answer is no. California is one of 24 states with closed adoption records. That means records are sealed to the public, though there are ways that some non-identifying information can be sought by adult adoptees. Generally, however, records are not accessible unless certain conditions are met.

For example, even though California adoptions records access is restricted under California adoption record law, as an adoptee you can petition the court to unseal the documents. Here’s how to unseal adoption records in California:

  1. Contact the county clerk in the county in which you were adopted and ask for guidance on filing a petition to unseal your California Department of Health adoption records.

  2. You can complete the petition process and file your petition with the court of record in the county in which you were adopted.

  3. You’ll meet with a judge in the county where you were adopted to discuss the compelling reasons for wanting to unseal the adoption records. The majority of successful petitions feature medical necessity as justification for unsealing the records.

  4. If the judge rules against your petition, you can work request that the court provides a confidential intermediary, who can gain access to California sealed adoption records and see if the other party consents to contact.

5. What is a confidential intermediary and what does one do?

In California, a confidential intermediary is a licensed professional who acts on behalf of one or more members of the adoption triad to gain access to California state adoption records. In California, confidential intermediaries are licensed by the state to access adoption records and gain the consent of involved parties to share the information.

A confidential intermediary is not allowed to access information and share it at their discretion, however. The goal of accessing sealed adoption records in California is to initiate communication with the parties involved in the adoption. If all parties agree that information can be shared, then the intermediary can facilitate the exchange of information.

6. What is the California Mutual Consent Adoption Registry?

California adoption records law allows for a Mutual Consent Adoption Registry under the supervision of the California Department of Social Services. As part of this program, an adoptee can complete and submit a Consent for Contact form. The form is submitted to the CDSS or the licensed agency that oversaw the adoption. If all parties consent, contact information may be provided.

If the birth parents have also submitted a Consent to Contact form, the information exchange can take place immediately. However, if one party has not submitted the consent form, no contact will be made and the CDSS and licensed agencies are prohibited by law to solicit consent.

7. What is the California Waiver of Sibling Confidentiality?

Under California adoption records laws, brothers and sisters from birth parents, adoptive parents, or stepparents are legally considered siblings and can submit a Waiver of Sibling Confidentiality to the California Department of Social Services. This form allows the CDSS to provide contact information to all sibling parties who agree to waive confidentiality.

8. Who may request a confidential intermediary in California?

Unlike some states, there’s not a long list of participants in adoption who are eligible to use a confidential intermediary to access California adoption records. Adoptees over the age of 21, birth parents of an adult adoptee, the adoptive parents of an adoptee under 21, and the siblings of an adoptee can petition the court to allow a confidential intermediary to gain access to the records.

9. Are there other ways to find adoption information in California?

Because California is a closed records state, there’s no legal mechanism to gain access to California sealed adoption records without the consent of those involved in the adoption. That said, there’s no law against sharing information voluntarily to facilitate a reunion.

First, many adoption agencies today promote the benefits of open adoption. That means information is shared freely between everyone in the adoption triad. At American Adoptions, we encourage birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents to consider open adoption in closed states such as California.

Also, online adoption records databases where adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents can voluntarily submit information can help others find them.

Closing Words About Adoption Records in California

While California is indeed a closed record state, that doesn’t render your hunt for adoption information futile. California adoption records law establishes a path of hope for those who seek information about an adoption in which they were involved.

We at American Adoptions encourage open post-adoption contract arrangements when it corresponds to the wishes of birth parents and prospective adoptive families. Our team features adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents, and we understand how important the exchange of information in adoptions can be.

To speak with an adoption specialist about adoption records and the benefits of open adoption, you can call 1-800-ADOPTION or get free adoption information here.

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. American Adoptions provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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