Adult adoptees in the District of Columbia do not have access to their original birth certificates, except by court order. The D.C. superior court controls all aspects of releasing an OBC or any identifying information, whether from court records or from vital records. Original birth certificates and adoption court records for adoptions initiated prior to September 1, 1937, however, should be accessible by an adoptee without a court order.
D.C. Superior courts are not in precise agreement about the scope of access an adoptee may have to court adoption records. At least one court decision required the release of information so long as the “welfare of the child will thereby be promoted or protected.” Other court decisions have more strictly interpreted the “welfare of the child” provision and have denied adoptees access to records, including original birth certificates.
U.S. District Court: Adoption Records
Prior to September 14, 1956, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had jurisdiction to hear and decide adoption petitions in the District of Columbia. Accordingly, adoptees who were born and adopted prior to 1956 likely have court records on file with the federal court in DC, not with the DC Superior Court. Adoptions initiated prior to 1937, however, are considered public records and should be available and on file with the court.
Petitions to break the seal for records for adoptions between 1937 and 1956 must be made to U.S. District Court. More information is available on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia website here.
Relevant D.C. Law: Original Birth Certificates
D.C. Code § 16-314. Birth certificates
(a) Upon the issuance of a final decree of adoption, an adoption form shall be sent to the Registrar pursuant to the Vital Records Act of 1981. Unless otherwise requested in the petition by the adopters, the Registrar shall cause to be made a new record of the birth in the new name with the names of the adopters and shall then cause the original birth certificate and the order of the Court to be sealed and filed. The sealed package may be opened only by order of the Court or by the Registrar to properly administer the Vital Records Act of 1981.
(b) If the adoption occurred outside the District either before or after August 25, 1937, a new certificate of birth shall be made pursuant to section 11 of the Vital Records Act of 1981. The Registrar shall seal the original birth certificate. The sealed original birth certificate may be opened only by order of a court of competent jurisdiction or by the Registrar to properly administer the Vital Records Act of 1981.
(c) If the birth of the adoptee occurred outside the District the clerk of the court shall, upon petition by the adopter, furnish him with a certified copy of the final decree of adoption.
(c-1) If the birth of the adoptee occurred outside of the United States, a new certificate of birth shall be made pursuant to section 11 of the Vital Records Act of 1981.
(d) When an adoption in the District occurred prior to August 25, 1937, the court shall, upon presentation of a motion by a party to the proceedings, order the clerk of the court to seal the records in the proceeding. Upon presentation of a certified copy of the order the Mayor shall cause to be made a new record of the birth in the new name and with the names of the adopters and shall then cause to be sealed and filed the original birth certificate with the order of the court. The sealed package may be opened only by order of the court.
Relevant D.C. Law: Adoption Court Records
D.C. Code § 16–311. Sealing and inspection of records and papers
From and after the filing of the petition, records and papers in adoption proceedings shall be sealed. They may not be inspected by any person, including the parties to the proceeding, except upon order of the court, and only then when the court is satisfied that the welfare of the child will thereby be promoted or protected. Such records and papers shall, upon written application to the court, be unsealed and provided to the Child Fatality Review Committee for inspection if the adoptee is deceased and inspection of the records and papers is necessary for the discharge of the Committee’s official duties. The clerk of the court shall keep a separate docket for adoption proceedings.