Original Birth Certificates. The District of Columbia is a Restricted Jurisdiction. Release of an adopted person’s own original birth certificate requires a court order. Depending on the date of the adoption, the court that finalized the adoption may be the D.C. Superior Court or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
How DC Works. Two different courts have maintained jurisdiction over adoptions in the District of Columbia. The date of an adoption controls which court handled the adoption:
After September 14, 1956: D.C. Superior Court. The D.C. superior court began handling adoptions in the District after September 14, 1956. Petitions to request the release of the original birth certificate for adoptions after September 14, 1956, should be filed with the D.C. Superior Court.
Before September 14, 1956: Federal Court. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia previously had jurisdiction to hear and decide adoption petitions in the District of Columbia. Accordingly, adoptees who were born and adopted prior to September 14, 1956, likely have court records on file with the federal district court in DC.
Important! Original birth certificates and court records for adoptions initiated prior to August 25, 1937, are available upon request unless a party to the adoption proceeding specifically requested that the court seal them. Many of the court records, if not all, are stored in the National Archives, while the District of Columbia Department of Health holds the original unsealed birth certificate. The birth record, however, may be sealed if the adoption occurred outside of the District.
Court Records. Court records are sealed and available only by court order, though courts are required to give weight to the fact that the adopted person is an adult. While consent of birthparents is not required for release of court records, a birthparent’s opinion for release may be considered.
Identifying Information. D.C. law does not specifically address the release of identifying information held by adoption agencies or other institutions or individuals, other than such records are considered confidential and must be permanently retained.
Adult Adoption. District of Columbia law provides for the adoption of adults who are at least eighteen years of age. An adult adoption generally requires 1) a petition from the adopting parent(s); 2) the consent of the prospective adoptee; and 3) court approval.
D.C. Law: Vital Records and Birth Certificates
Relevant parts of District of Columbia vital records law. The entire District of Columbia vital records statute is available here.
D.C Code § 7–231.10. Infants of unknown parentage
(a) An individual who assumes legal custody of a live born infant of unknown parentage shall file with the Registrar a report of live birth that establishes the facts of live birth. The report shall be submitted to the Registrar within 5 days after the individual obtains custody and shall include the following information:
(1) The date and place the child was found;
(2) The sex and approximate birth date of the child;
(3) The name and address of the individual or institution with whom the child has been placed for care;
(4) The name and address of the individual or institution submitting the report;
(5) The name given to the child by the custodian of the child; and
(6) Any other data required by the Registrar.
(b) The place where the child was found shall be entered as the place of live birth.
(c) Information submitted pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall constitute the report of live birth for the child.
(d) If the child is identified and a live birth registration is found or obtained, the report submitted pursuant to subsection (a) of this section and any live birth registration resulting from that report shall be voided and placed in a sealed file and shall not be subject to inspection except upon order of the court or as provided by rules issued pursuant to § 7-231.29.
D.C. Code § 7–231.19. Adoption forms
(a) The court shall prepare an adoption form for each adoption decreed by the court. The form shall:
(1) State facts necessary to locate and identify the original record of live birth of the adoptee;
(2) Provide the information necessary to establish a new record of live birth for the adoptee;
(3) Identify the adoption order; and
(4) Be issued under seal by the court.
(b) The petitioner for adoption or his or her attorney shall supply the information necessary to prepare the adoption form. The social service agency or any individual with knowledge of the facts shall supply the court with any additional information necessary to complete the adoption form. The court shall require such individuals to provide the information prior to issuing a final decree in the matter.
(c) The court shall prepare an adoption form whenever an adoption decree is amended or annulled which shall include the facts necessary to identify the original adoption form and the facts amended in the adoption decree necessary to properly amend the record of live birth.
(d) No later than the final day of each calendar month, the court shall forward to the Registrar adoption forms concerning decrees of adoption, annulments, and amendments of decrees of adoption that were entered in the preceding month, together with any related reports the Registrar may require.
(e)(1) The Registrar shall forward to the Registrar in the state of the adoptee’s birth an adoption form and a certified copy of any court decree that annuls or amends a decree of adoption for an individual born outside the District.
(2) When the court annuls or amends a decree of adoption relating to an individual born in a foreign country, the Registrar shall return the adoption form and decree to the attorney or social service agency handling the adoption for submission to the appropriate federal agency.
(f)(1) If an adoptee was born in a foreign country and was not a citizen of the United States at the time of birth, the Registrar shall prepare a “Record of Foreign Live Birth”. The Registrar shall also send a copy of the adoption form, report of annulment of adoption, or amendment of a decree of adoption to the appropriate registration authority.
(2) If the adoptee was born in a foreign country and through parentage is a citizen of the United States, the Registrar shall not prepare a “Record of Foreign Live Birth” but shall notify the adoptive parents of the procedures for obtaining a revised live birth record for their child through the U.S. Department of State.
D.C. Code § 7–231.21. New records of live birth for adoption and determination of parentage
(a) The Registrar shall establish a new record of live birth upon receipt of one the following documents:
(1) An adoption form prepared in accordance with § 7-231.19;
(2) An adoption form prepared and filed according to the laws of a state or foreign country;
(3) A certified copy of an order issued by the court determining the parentage of such an individual; or
(4) A voluntary acknowledgment of parentage by an individual in accordance with § 16-2345.
(b) The Registrar shall establish a new record of live birth for an adoptee born outside of the United States upon receipt of a request of the adoptive parent or the adoptee, if the adoptee is 18 years of age or older, and either:
(1) An adoption form prepared in accordance with § 7-231.19; or
(2) A copy of the foreign adoption decree that includes a certified translation of the decree.
(c) If birth information is not already included in the foreign adoption decree, the Registrar may rely on the following evidence to determine the child’s birth date and birthplace:
(1) An original live birth certificate;
(2) Evidence of IR-3 immigrant visa status, or successor immigrant visa status for the child, issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services;
(3) A post-adoption live birth certificate issued by the foreign jurisdiction, including a certified copy, extract, or translation; or
(4) An equivalent document, such as a record of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or the U.S. Department of State.
(d) The Registrar shall return all adoption documents issued by the foreign jurisdiction to the adoptive parent or adoptee, whichever is applicable.
(e) The Registrar shall not establish a new record of live birth if so requested by the adoptive parents pursuant to § 16-314(a).
(f) If the individual’s name has been changed subsequent to adoption or determination of parentage, the order shall include the name that currently appears on the live birth record and the new name to be designated on the replacement record of live birth. The new name of the individual shall be shown on the replacement live birth record.
(g) The actual place and date of live birth shall be displayed on the new record of live birth. The new record shall be substituted for the original record of live birth in the files of the Vital Records Division. The new record shall not designate that parentage has been established by judicial process or by acknowledgement.
(h) A replacement record of live birth shall be substituted for the original record of live birth. The original record of live birth and the evidence of adoption, parentage determination, or parentage acknowledgement submitted shall be placed under seal and not be subject to inspection, except by the Registrar for the purpose of properly administering the system of vital statistics, upon an order of the court, or in accordance with rules issued pursuant to § 7-231.29.
(i) If no record of live birth is on file for the individual for whom a new live birth record is to be established pursuant to this section, and the date and place of live birth have not been determined in the adoption or parentage proceedings, the Registrar shall file a delayed report of live birth before issuing a new record of live birth. The new live birth record shall be prepared in accordance with § 7-231.11.
(j) Upon receipt of a report of an amended decree of adoption, the Registrar shall amend the record of live birth.
(k) Upon receipt of a report or decree of annulment of adoption, the Registrar shall restore the original record of live birth. The annulled record of live birth and its associated evidence shall not be subject to inspection, except upon order of the court or as authorized by rules issued pursuant to § 7-231.29.
(l) The Registrar shall not create a replacement record if the date and place of live birth have not been determined in the adoption or paternity proceedings or if a delayed registration of live birth has not been completed in accordance with § 7-231.11.
(m) When a replacement record of live birth is issued by the Registrar, any agency that possesses a certificate of live birth from the original record shall return the certificate to the Registrar upon request.
D.C. Law: Adoption Court Records and Birth Certificates
Relevant parts of District of Columbia adoption law related to court records and original birth certificates. The entire District of Columbia adoption statute is available here.
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.
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 [Chapter 2A of Title 7]. 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 [Chapter 2A of Title 7].
(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 [Chapter 2A of Title 7]. 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 [Chapter 2A of Title 7].
(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 [Chapter 2A of Title 7].
(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.
D.C. Law: Adoption Generally
D.C. Code § 16–302. Persons who may adopt
Any person may petition the court for a decree of adoption. A petition may not be considered by the court unless petitioner’s spouse, if he has one, joins in the petition, except that if either the husband or wife is a natural parent of the prospective adoptee, the natural parent need not join in the petition with the adopting parent, but need only give his or her consent to the adoption. If the marital status of the petitioner changes after the time of filing the petition and before the time the decree of adoption is final, the petition must be amended accordingly.
D.C. Code § 16–303. Persons adopted
A person, whether a minor or an adult, may be adopted.
D.C. Code § 16–304. Consent; exceptions
(a) A petition for adoption may not be granted by the court unless there is filed with the petition a written statement of consent, as provided by this section, signed and acknowledged before an officer authorized by law to take acknowledgments, before a representative of a licensed child-placing agency, or before the Mayor of the District, or unless a relinquishment of parental rights with respect to the prospective adoptee has been recorded and filed as provided by section 4-1406.
(b) Consent to a proposed adoption of a person under eighteen years of age is necessary:
(1) from the prospective adoptee, if he is fourteen years of age or over; and also,
(2) in accordance with the provisions of any one of the following paragraphs:
(A) from both parents, if they are both alive; or
(B) from the living parent of the prospective adoptee, if one of the parents is dead; or
(C) from the court-appointed guardian of the prospective adoptee; or
(D) from a licensed child-placing agency or the Mayor in case the parental rights of the parent or parents have been terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction or by a release of parental rights to the Mayor or licensed child-placing agency, based upon consents obtained in accordance with subparagraphs (A) through (C) of this paragraph, and the prospective adoptee has been lawfully placed under the care and custody of the agency or the Mayor; or
(E) from the Mayor in any situation not otherwise provided for by this subsection.
(c) Minority of a natural parent is not a bar to that parent’s consent to adoption.
(d) When a parent whose consent is hereinbefore required, after such notice as the court directs, cannot be located, or has abandoned the prospective adoptee and voluntarily failed to contribute to his support for a period of at least six months next preceding the date of the filing of the petition, the consent of that parent is not required.
(e) The court may grant a petition for adoption without any of the consents specified in this section, when the court finds, after a hearing, that the consent or consents are withheld contrary to the best interest of the child.
(f) A person over eighteen years of age may be adopted, on the petition of the adopting parent or parents and with the consent of the prospective adoptee, if the court is satisfied that the adoption should be granted.
(g) The court may grant a petition for adoption without consent when there has been a relinquishment of parental rights and the termination of parental rights pursuant to [§ 4-1451.05: Newborn Safe Haven Law].
D.C. Code § 16–310. Finality of decrees of adoption
An attempt to invalidate a final decree of adoption by reason of a jurisdictional or procedural defect may not be received by any court of the District, unless regularly filed with the court within one year following the date the final decree became effective.
D.C. Code § 16–312. Legal effects of adoption
(a) A final decree of adoption establishes the relationship of natural parent and natural child between adopter and adoptee for all purposes, including mutual rights of inheritance and succession as if adoptee were born to adopter. The adoptee takes from, through, and as a representative of his adoptive parent or parents in the same manner as a child by birth, and upon the death of an adoptee intestate, his property shall pass and be distributed in the same manner as if the adoptee had been born to the adopting parent or parents in lawful wedlock. All rights and duties including those of inheritance and succession between the adoptee, his natural parents, their issue, collateral relatives, and so forth, are cut off, except that when one of the natural parents is the spouse of the adopter, the rights and relations as between adoptee, that natural parent, and his parents and collateral relatives, including mutual rights of inheritance and succession, are in no wise altered.
(b) While it is in force, an interlocutory decree of adoption has the same legal effect as a final decree of adoption. Upon the revocation of an interlocutory decree of adoption, the status of the adoptee, the natural parents of the adoptee, and the petitioners are as though the interlocutory decree were null and void ab initio.
(c) The family name of the adoptee shall be changed to that of the adopter unless the decree otherwise provides, and the given name of the adoptee may be fixed or changed at the same time.
D.C. Code § 16–313. Child as including adopted person
In the District, “child” or its equivalent in a deed, grant, will, or other written instrument includes an adopted person, unless the contrary plainly appears by the terms thereof, whether the instrument was executed before or after the entry of the interlocutory decree of adoption, if any, or before or after the final decree of adoption became effective.
D.C. Code § 16–315. Prior proceedings
The provisions of this chapter have no effect prior to June 8, 1954, except to the extent that they specifically so provide. They do not affect in any way the rights and relations obtained by any decree of adoption entered prior to June 8, 1954.
D.C. Code § 16–317. Recognition of foreign adoptions and elective petitions for District adoption
(a)(1) A final judgment of adoption granted by a judicial, administrative, or executive body of a jurisdiction or country other than the United States shall have the same force and effect in the District as that given to a judgment of adoption entered by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, without additional proceedings or documentation if the:
(A) Adopting parent is a resident of the District of Columbia; and
(B) Validity of the foreign adoption has been verified by the granting of an IR-3 immigrant visa, or a successor immigrant visa, for the child by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
(2) The foreign adoption that meets the requirement of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be considered final under the laws of the District of Columbia and, notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no further petition for an adoption decree shall be required in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
(3) The Department of Health shall issue a birth certificate for the child upon:
(A) Request by the adoptive parent;
(B) Presentation of evidence that the adoptive parent is a resident of the District of Columbia; and
(C) Presentation of evidence that the child was granted an IR-3 immigrant visa, or a successor immigrant visa, by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
(b)(1) Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, an adoptive parent may elect to file a petition for a District adoption decree with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
(2) If the foreign adoption meets the requirements of subsection (a) of this section, notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, the court shall issue:
(A) A finding of fact on the foreign adoption, including the:
(i) Name of the adoptive parent;
(ii) Name or names of the child;
(iii) Reported birth date of the child;
(iv) Country of the child’s birth;
(v) Country and the date of the foreign adoption; and
(vi) Date and issuance of an IR-3 immigrant visa, or a successor immigrant visa, for the child by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; and
(B) An adoption decree to the petitioner.
(3) A petition for a District adoption decree pursuant to this subsection may be combined with a petition for a name change.
(4) A petition for an adoption decree issued pursuant to this subsection shall be placed on an expedited calendar to ensure minimal expense of time and money to the petitioning party in attaining a adoption decree.