Beginning August 1, 2018, a new Arkansas law allows adult adoptees to request their adoption files. The request, however, is subject to a birthparent’s ability to redact their names on the original birth certificates.
To understand the new law, I’ve created a flow chart to help people see how the law works. In addition, here are some likely questions about the law and its requirements and discriminatory limitations.
What is the “adoption file” and what’s in it?
The new law defines the adoption file as “a file maintained by the Department of Health that contains an original birth certificate and adoption decree of an adoptee.”
How old do I have to be to request the adoption file?
You must be 21 years of age. By contrast, non-adopted people must be 18 years of age to request their own birth certificates.
What does it cost to request my OBC/adoption file?
It costs $100 to request the adoption file. This is far more than the $12.00 Arkansas charges non-adopted people to obtain a copy of their own birth certificates.
What form do I use to request my adoption file?
You use form VR-504, which is available here under the title “Request for an Adopted Person’s Original Birth Record.”
Will I actually receive my original birth certificate?
Yes, if you were born in Arkansas and the OBC is in the “adoption file” maintained by the Arkansas Department of Health. That said, a birthparent may request that his or her name be removed or “redacted” from the OBC. In these cases the information will be removed, likely by blocking out or erasing the birthparent’s name on the original birth certificate.
What other information can be redacted from the original birth certificate?
The law states only that a birthparent’s name may be redacted. It is unclear how broadly Arkansas will interpret this and whether it means, for example, an adoptee’s surname can also be redacted if it is the same as the birthparent’s surname.
When can birthparents request redaction of their names from the original birth certificate?
A birthparent can request redaction at anytime. Birthparents have already been able to file redaction requests with the Department of Health.
What happens if a birthparent dies after filing a redaction request? Will I get an unredacted OBC then?
Unlikely. The new law does not have a provision that would change or eliminate a redaction request once a birthparent dies. Accordingly, the redaction request appears to last beyond the birthparent’s death, similar to what is informally known as a “zombie veto.”
I was adopted in Arkansas but born in a different state. Can I request my adoption file?
This is unclear, but it is unlikely. While the adoption file contains the court decree of adoption, the Arkansas Department of Health maintains that file. If you were born in another state, your birth certificate is not on file with the Arkansas Department of Health. In addition, the court decree in Arkansas was also likely forwarded to your state of birth for processing by its own vital records law. In your case, you must either obtain a copy of your OBC from your birth state or petition the court in Arkansas to release your court decree and, possibly, your OBC if it is on file with the court. I suggest contacting the Arkansas Department of Health for clarification.
Can descendants of the adoptee obtain the adoption file?
Yes, but only a child of the adoptee or that child’s guardian may request the adoption file, provided that the requester is also 21 years of age or older. In addition, the spouse of a deceased adoptee may request the adoption file.
Will I receive anything else besides the original birth certificate and the court decree of adoption?
Possibly. Birthparents may file a contact preference form that expresses a preference for any contact with the birthparent. If a birthparent files a redaction request or a contact preference form, the birthparent must also complete a genetic or social history form, which will be provided to the adoptee with the adoption file.
I’ve heard that there may be a “contact veto” in the law that may prohibit me from contacting a birthparent if that parent does not want contact. Is this true?
I do not interpret the law to prohibit contacting a birthparent. In addition, the Arkansas Department of Health has interpreted the contact preference form as “advisory only and not enforceable. It does not ensure that contact will or will not be made.” That said, I always advise caution and common sense in contacting a birthparent who has stated a preference not to be contacted.
Is the copy of the original birth certificate certified?
Yes, it appears a certified copy of the OBC will be provided, though the Department of Health “shall mark the certified copy of the original birth certificate contained in the adoption file as not intended for official use or similar.”
How is the adoption file sent to me?
It is sent certified mail, which will require a signature for you to receive it.