How to Unseal Your Own Adoption Record in California

By Eric Feigenbaum
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Many people who were adopted as children wonder about their birth parents. Many become more than curious and think knowing more about their adoption and birth parents will reveal something important about themselves. Adoptees born or adopted in California who want access to their complete adoption records have challenges to overcome. California law protects both birth parent and adoptee rights with anonymity.

File a request for your adoption records through the California Department of Social Services (see Resources). Call the department and request the proper forms (an official will inform you of what forms you need complete). On the forms, you will need to include your personal information, including all available information you have on your birthplace, birthday, adopted parents and known adoption details. You will also be asked your reason for the request. CDSS will check whether a birth-parent consent is on file. If so, you can receive your adoption records immediately.

Wait for CDSS to attempt to contact your birth parents for consent to release the records if no prior consent is on file. California law requires written consent in order to release adoption records and personal information to adoptees. While this can be frustrating to an anxious adoptee, understand that the law also protects you because birth parents trying to located their adopted children also need adoptee or guardian consent.

Petition the superior court of the county in which you reside or the county in which you were adopted for release of your birth certification and adoption documents (see Resources). Judges have complete discretion on the matter, so prepare a compelling argument. For example, if you need it for medical reasons such as trying to find a donor for a vital organ transplant, your chances will be better for having your records released. Also, if your birth parents are deceased, judges may be at greater liberty to release records because they no longer have to protect the privacy of the birth parents.

Request information on any biological siblings through the California Department of Social Services. When both siblings are older than 21, they have the right to mutually consent to information release without approval from birth parents. Complete CDSS forms and include your reason for inquiring. It's possible your biological sibling is in touch with one or both of your biological parents and may persuade them to consent to release your records.