In New Jersey as many as 2,400 adoptions take place every year. Recently, after years of relentless lobbying, a law took effect that allows those adult New Jersey adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates that have information about their biological parents, their medical history and identity. Prior to this legislation, these records were sealed by the state of New Jersey and were only available through a court order. Since the legislation took effect in January 2017, more than 1,000 adult adoptees have received their birth records from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) after submitting applications.
Authorized individuals may access a copy of the adoptee’s birth certificate through an application form (REG-44). There is no deadline for an adult adoptee to request a copy of their original birth certificate. According to NJDOH, individuals who are allowed to make the requests for these birth certificates are “adult adoptees, direct descendants, siblings or spouses of adopted persons, adoptive parents, legal guardians or other legal representatives of the adopted individual, and state or federal government agencies for official purposes.” The fee is $25 for the birth record and then $2 for each additional copy.
If a birth parent wanted to maintain their privacy by having their name redacted from a child’s birth certificate, they must have completed a redaction request form and submitted it to the NJDOH by December 31, 2016. Under the law, if the adoption was made final on or after August 1, 2015 the birth parents do not have the option to redact their names. Birth parents may also complete a family history and contact form that can be altered at any time. These forms provide contact options including direct contact information, contact through an intermediary, or no contact at this time.
The legislation was signed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2014. Since then, the NJDOH publicly alerted birth parents, national adoption agencies, and health officials in states where former New Jersey residents may reside. NJ Family Care (NJCARE), New Jersey’s publicly funded health insurance program, has mailed out thousands of informational cards to libraries, adoption agencies and adoption advocacy groups across the nation to get the word out about the new legislation.
However, despite the agencies’ efforts to notify the birth parents of the 300,000 adoptees under the old law, some birth parents remain unfamiliar with the change and, as a result, some have missed the window of opportunity to submit a request to have their names redacted. Critics have argued that the legislation should have included funding to provide educational outreach to these people.
The New Jersey Right to Life and New Jersey Catholic Conference have been outspoken on their opposition to the legislation. According to Marie Tasy, Executive Director of Right to Life, the organizations fear that the lack of anonymity will leave birth mothers feeling betrayed and that it will discourage pregnant women and girls from carrying a baby to term if they fear they will be discovered. The organizations’ position is that it should be the birth mother’s decision to have a closed or open adoption, not the state. Patrick Brannigan, Executive Director of Catholic Conference, has stated that by December 28, 2016, his organization had received hundreds of calls from elderly birth parents who needed help accessing paperwork to remain anonymous.
As of February 1, 2017, 1,900 adoptee applications were received, 1,056 birth records were mailed, 558 birth parents requested redactions on the records, 351 birth parents provided family history, and 121 birth parents have stated that they want some form of contact with the child they placed up for adoption.
The family law attorneys at Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney, P.A. are experienced in handling complex family law issues, including adoption, divorce, child custody and support, equitable distribution, and alternative dispute resolution. Our skilled skilled family law attorneys have the experience necessary to provide clients with the best possible outcome for their situation. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call (973) 256-0456 or fill out our contact form.