Breaking the Seal of Adoption

Breaking the Seal of Adoption is a process in which a birth parent or adoptee seeks release of either identifying or non-identifying information from their sealed adoption records, which were closed by the Court when the adoption was finalized. 

Before you begin trying to access sealed adoption records, you should know that the process of obtaining them will vary by state. This can be frustrating for adoptees looking for information, but Jennifer and Catelyn can help. We have experience with obtaining adoption records in the DC, Maryland and Virginia, and can help you in your search.

How to Access Adoption Records in Maryland

Maryland has an administrative process through the Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene (DHMH) which allows either adoptees over the age of 21 or birth parents to register with the Maryland Mutual Voluntary Registry to locate each other. There are several services offered through DHMH for obtaining different levels of information and, should this process fail, a Petition to Break the Seal of Adoption may be filed in the Circuit Court.

Jennifer has assisted clients in both the administrative process and the Court process to obtain necessary medical information about birth families or to help the parties locate each other. As part of this process, Maryland uses trained intermediaries, who review the adoption files, interview the parties and protect the adoptee or birth parent who does not wish to be identified. My firm can assist you in understanding the process and working through it to obtain adoption records in Maryland.

How Can I Get My Adoption Records in the District of Columbia?

The District of Columbia uses intermediaries, as well; however, the process is quite different. In the District of Columbia, a birth parent or adoptee must first file a Petition to Break the Seal of Adoption in the Superior Court, which must satisfy the Court that the information sought is for a legitimate purpose.

If the Court believes that breaking the seal of adoption would benefit the person seeking to have the adoption seal broken, it will issue an Order to the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency to investigate the case. The Agency will assign a social worker (intermediary), who will attempt to locate the original file, obtain information and interview the person who filed the Petition. If information can be obtained from the file that satisfies the request, the information is provided, a report is filed with the Court and the file is then re-sealed. If locating the birth parent or adoptee is what is sought, the social worker will attempt to locate the person and facilitate an exchange of information and possible meeting of the parties. Once the social worker has completed his or her work or believes there is no further information or contact information available, a report is filed with the Court. Sometimes a hearing is held related to the matter, and the matter is then re-sealed.

How to Unseal Adoption Records in Virginia

The Virginia Department of Social Services keeps a permanent record of all adoptions finalized in Virginia since July 1, 1942. In addition, if the adoptee was placed for adoption through an agency with the legal authority to consent to the adoption, that agency may also have a copy of the record. The Code of Virginia sections §63.2-1246 and §63.2-1247 identify the parties who have access to identifying and non-identifying information from the adoption record.

Adult adoptees have the right to request and receive non-identifying background information about themselves and their birth family from their finalized adoption record. Adult adoptees also have the right to apply to the Virginia Department of Social Services for identifying information on their birth family, such as names and addresses. “Good cause” must be shown in order to gain access to adoption records in Virginia. Good cause means consent from the birth family member on whom identifying information is being sought.

Adult adoptees have the right to request that an attempt be made by the agency initially involved in the adoption to convey critical medical, psychological, and genetic information to their birth parents or adult birth siblings. However, a physician or licensed mental health provider must certify in writing with a clear explanation as to the reasons that it is critical that the information be conveyed. Confidentiality of all parties is to be maintained by the agency. 

In parental placement adoptions, where the consent to the adoption was executed on or after July 1, 1994, the adult adoptee may view the entire adoption record. However, any criminal record checks for the adoptive parent(s) which show a criminal record conviction cannot be released.

This Virginia Mutual Voluntary Registry handout will help answer more questions.

Like all matters involving adoption, each case is fact-specific, and some cases require more attorney involvement than others. Consulting with an attorney prior to attempting to break the seal of adoption in either jurisdiction or starting the administrative process in Maryland, Virginia or DC can be beneficial in helping you understand the options available. Your attorney will also prepare you for possible outcomes and answer questions or concerns you may have about breaking the seal of adoption before accessing adoption records.

Contact us now to learn how to access adoption records in MD, VA or DC based on your individual situation.

What is the Tax Credit?

For 2020, the maximum adoption credit and exclusion is $14,300 per child.  The amount changes each year to adjust for inflation. The credit will begin to phase out for families with modified adjusted gross incomes above $214,520 and the credit will go away completely for those with incomes around $254,520.The adoption credit is calculated on Form 8839 Qualified Adoption Expenses. 

“I believe in working with each of my clients—in support of their family dynamic—to make the dreams of parenthood a reality. Whether you are single or married; or gay; a step-parent, a surrogate or intended parent or a child of adoption, it is my mission to serve as your advocate. With a dedication to the ethical and sensitive nature of each situation, I will help you understand the laws within Maryland or Washington, DC for adoption or surrogacy, and pledge to be your partner throughout the journey.” - Jennifer Fairfax