|Governor John Kitzhaber|
The new law, SB 623, also allows Oregon adoptees 18 and over to access their court adoption files--except the home study of the adoptive parents--just by going to the courthouse and asking for them. No court order will be required. Additionally the new law allows adoptive parents to access all their child's court adoption records without a court order.
YOUR REASON FOR WANTING TO KNOW YOUR CHILD, MADAM?
As it stands now, a judge has a great deal of leeway to decide what is a good reason to release court information to the mother, who must go before a judge and state her reasons. The trouble is, the law does not state what a good reason is--one judge might consider a mother's intent to tell her child about a family history of breast cancer to be a good reason; another given the same reason might refuse to open the file and suggest the mother contact the adoption agency and ask it to pass along the breast cancer information. Simply wanting to know her child's name so she can find him and tell him she loves him and thinks about him every day is not a good reason. If it were, a great many files would already have been opened.
The new law says that once her child turns 18, mothers may file a motion to see her child's file and "the court shall grant the motion except for good cause." This means that the judge can deny her request only if he has a good reason. Since it's unlikely anyone will come to court to oppose the mother's request, it's unlikely the judge will have good cause to refuse the mothers' request, unless something in the file indicates that she might endanger the child. Although legal advice may be helpful, a lawyer should not be necessary to go through the process, and thus even non-wealthy women will be able to learn their children's names. Without a lawyer, the only cost would be a filing fee of $240, plus reasonable charges for having copies made.
Additionally, mothers can get copies of all documents they signed without a court order. However, the signatures any other person on the document will be redacted, that is, blotted out.
These new rules go into effect January 1. Court administrators are now developing procedures and training staff to implement the new law.
WHAT MOTHERS (AND FATHERS) WILL GET
Upon obtaining a court order, the following documents will be available to mothers--and fathers if their consent was required for the adoption:
- Petition for Adoption. Contains the names and marital status of the prospective adoption parents, the name, sex, and date of birth of the child to be adopted, and the name and marital status of the child's mother, and, if his consent is required, the name of the child's father.
- Consents to adoption. The documents signed by the mother, the father (if required), and the adoption agency, if any.
- Placement Report. A recommendation by the child welfare agency or a licensed adoption agency on whether the court should allow the adoption. It may include the child's and the child's first parents social, medical, and genetic history.
- Continuing Contact (open adoption) Agreement, if any.
- Itemized Accounting. Any monies paid or estimated to be paid by the by the prospective adoptive parents for fees and costs and expenses relating to the adoption, including legal, medical, living and travel expenses.
- Adoption Decree. The court order granting the petition for adoption, making the adoptive parents the legal parents, and changing the child's name to the name chosen by the adoptive parents.
HOW THE NEW LAW CAME ABOUT
SB 623 was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is coincidentally chaired by an adoptee, Sen. Floyd Prozanski. After Judiciary approved the bill, it was on a roll, sailing through the Senate, a House Committee and the House of Representatives, and then on to the Governor for his signature, which came on June 6.
Though I am pleased to have played a part in this new new legislation, and hope that it augers a change elsewhere in the country, please keep in mind that this is my understanding of it, and not a legal opinion. As we go along and procedures are developed, I'll update this information.--Jane
In other news, we have heard nothing about the Adoptee Rights Bill in New York. The session will be over on Thursday. Doesn't look good again this year. If you are thinking of calling or emailing the governor or a legislator, do so immediately. See sidebar on right for contact information.
The Oregon Law Commission
Adoption Work Group
Opening court records to adoptees and first parents
Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption An excellent history of sealed records in this country and the movement to unseal them. FMF consults it often.
"Amid recent controversies over sealed adoption records and open adoption, it is ever more apparent that secrecy and disclosure are the defining issues in American adoptions--and these are also the central concerns of E. Wayne Carp's book. Mining a vast range of sources (including for the first time confidential case records of a twentieth-century adoption agency), Carp makes a startling discovery: openness, not secrecy, has been the norm in adoption for most of our history; sealed records were a post-World War II aberration, resulting from the convergence of several unusual cultural, demographic, and social trends." --Amazon