Montana law does not provide adult adoptees with unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates. The state has a somewhat complex tiered system of access that depends upon an adoptee’s date of adoption. While access to an original birth certificate may be available more easily to adoptees who are 30 years of age or older, court orders may be required for younger adoptees and in all cases where a birth parent requests that a court order be required. The relevant timeframe of Montana’s tiered system of access includes:
- Those adopted 30 or more years ago: OBC available upon written request, unless a birthparent has requested that a court order be required to release it;
- Those adopted less than 30 years ago but but before October 1, 1997: OBC available only by court order;
- Those adopted on or after October 1, 1997: OBC available upon written request if adoptee is at least 18 years of age, subject to disclosure veto, then otherwise only available by court order
Montana also maintains a confidential intermediary system, which may be used to secure the release of identifying information. It requires an adult adoptee to petition the court for appointment of the confidential intermediary, who could search for a birth relative and review confidential information. Consent is required prior to release of any identifying information.
Relevant Montana Law: Original Birth Certificates
§ 42-6-109. Release of original birth certificate— certificate of adoption
(1) In addition to any copy of an adoptee’s original birth certificate authorized for release by a court order issued pursuant to 50-15-121 or 50-15-122, the department shall furnish a copy of the original birth certificate of an adoptee:
(a) upon the written request of a person who was adopted before October 1, 1985, or 30 years or more ago, whichever date is later;
(b) upon a court order for a person adopted on or after October 1, 1985, and before October 1, 1997; and
(c) for a person adopted on or after October 1, 1997, upon:
(i) the written request of an adoptee who has attained 18 years of age unless the birth parent has requested in writing that the original birth certificate not be automatically released; or
(ii) a court order.
(2) Upon the request of an adoptive parent or an adoptee who has attained 18 years of age, the department shall issue a certificate of adoption that states the date and place of adoption, the date of birth of the adoptee, the name of each adoptive parent, and the name of the adoptee as provided in the decree.
(3) A birth parent may request in writing to the vital statistics bureau that the birth certificate for an adoptee not be released without a court order. The birth parent may change the request at any time by notifying the vital statistics bureau in writing of the change.
(4) The department may release a copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate if release of this document is required to assist an adoptee to become enrolled in or a member of an Indian tribe.
50-15-121. Copies from system of vital statistics
(1) Except as provided in subsections (6) and (7), the department and county clerk and recorders shall, upon receipt of an application, issue a certified copy or copies of a vital record or a part of a vital record to the registrant, the registrant’s spouse, children, parents, or guardian, or an authorized representative. Other individuals may obtain certified copies when the individual demonstrates that the record is needed for the determination or protection of the individual’s personal or property rights. The department shall adopt rules to further define those who may obtain copies of vital records filed under this chapter.
(2) All applications, forms, and procedures used in the issuance of certified copies of vital records in the state must be uniform and prepared or approved by the department. All certified copies must contain security features that deter the document from being altered, counterfeited, duplicated, or simulated without ready detection that there have been these changes to the document.
(3) Each copy issued must show the date of filing. Copies issued from amended records must be marked and must show the effective date of the amendment. Copies issued from delayed records must be marked, must include the date of filing, and must contain a statement of the evidence used to establish the delayed certificate. A copy issued of a certificate of foreign birth must indicate the fact of foreign birth and the date of birth (if known), must show the actual place of birth, and must state that the certificate is not proof of United States citizenship for the adoptive child.
(4) A certified copy or other copy of a death certificate must be issued upon request of any person.
(5) A certified copy of a vital record or any part of a vital record, issued in accordance with subsections (1) through (3), must be considered for all purposes the same as the original. The admissibility of a certificate or vital record filed more than 1 year after the event or after a corrective record is filed, of a vital record that has been amended, or of a certificate of foreign birth must be determined by the judicial or administrative body or official before whom the certificate is offered as evidence.
(6) This section may not be construed to permit disclosure of confidential information contained in a birth certificate for medical or health use or of information for statistical purposes only contained in a certificate of marriage or report of dissolution of marriage unless disclosure is specifically authorized by law for statistical or research purposes or unless ordered by a court.
(7) (a) When the department receives information that a certificate may have been registered through fraud or misrepresentation, it shall withhold issuance of the certificate or any copy of that certificate pending issuance of an order after an administrative contested case hearing before the department to determine whether fraud or misrepresentation has occurred.
(b) The hearing provided for in subsection (7)(a) must be conducted pursuant to the Montana Administrative Procedure Act. In the proceeding, the department shall notify the registrant or the registrant’s authorized representative and provide the registrant or the representative the opportunity to be heard.
(c) If, upon conclusion of the hearing, fraud or misrepresentation is not found, the department may issue the certificate or copies of the certificate in question.
(d) If, upon conclusion of the hearing, fraud or misrepresentation is found, the department may not register the certificate unless ordered to do so by a court.
(e) An affected person may appeal the department’s decision to the district court as provided in Title 2, chapter 4, part 7.
(8) A person may not prepare or issue any certificate that purports to be an original or certified copy, except as authorized in this chapter or rules adopted to implement this chapter.
(9) The department may, by rule, prescribe details for the hearing and appellate procedures contained in this section.
§ 50-15-223. Certificates of birth following adoption, legitimation, or determination or acknowledgment of paternity
(1) The department shall establish a new certificate of birth for a person born in this state when the department receives the following:
(a) a certificate of adoption, as provided in 50-15-311, a certificate of adoption prepared and filed in accordance with the laws of another state or foreign country, or a certified copy of the decree of adoption, together with the information necessary to identify the original certificate of birth and to establish a new certificate of birth; or
(b) a request that a new certificate be established if the request shows that:
(i) a district court, court of appropriate jurisdiction in another state, or administrative agency in this state or another state with appropriate jurisdiction has determined the paternity of the person and information necessary to identify the original certificate of birth is provided; or
(ii) both parents have acknowledged the paternity of the person and request that the surname be changed from that shown on the original certificate.
(2) The date of birth and the city and county of birth must be stated in the newly established certificate of birth. The department shall substitute the new certificate of birth for the original certificate of birth in the files. The original certificate of birth and the evidence of adoption, legitimation, court determination of paternity, or paternity acknowledgment are only subject to inspection, except upon order of a district court, as provided by rule, as provided in Title 42, chapter 6, part 1, or as otherwise provided by state law.
(3) Upon receipt of a report of an amended decree of adoption, the department shall amend the certificate of birth as provided in rules adopted by the department.
(4) Upon receipt of a report or decree of annulment of adoption, the department shall restore the original certificate of birth issued before the adoption to its place in the files and the certificate of birth issued upon adoption and evidence pertaining to the adoption proceeding may not be open to inspection, except:
(a) as provided in Title 42, chapter 6, part 1;
(b) upon order of a district court; or
(c) as provided by rule adopted by the department.
(5) Upon written request of both parents and receipt of a sworn acknowledgment and other credible evidence of paternity signed by both parents of a child born outside of marriage, the department shall reflect the paternity on the child’s certificate of birth if paternity is not already shown on the certificate of birth.
(6) If a certificate of birth is not on file for the adopted child for whom a new certificate of birth is to be established under this section and the date and place of birth have not been determined in the adoption or paternity proceedings pertaining to the child, a delayed certificate of birth must be filed with the department, as provided in 50-15-204, before a new certificate of birth may be established. The new certificate of birth must be prepared on a form prescribed by the department.
(7) When a new certificate of birth is established by the department, the department shall direct that all copies of the original certificate of birth in the custody of any other custodian of vital records in this state be forwarded immediately to the department.
(8) (a) The department shall, upon request of the adopting parents, prepare and register a certificate of birth in this state for a person who was born in a foreign country and adopted through a district court in this state.
(b) The certificate of birth must be established by the department upon receipt of a certificate of adoption, conforming to the requirements of 50-15-311, from the court that reflects entry of an order of adoption, proof of the date and place of the child’s birth, and a request for the establishment of a certificate of birth from the court, the adopting parents, or the adopted person, if the person is 18 years of age or older.
(c) The certificate of birth must be labeled “Certificate of Foreign Birth” and must contain the actual country of birth. A statement must be included on the certificate indicating that it is not evidence of United States citizenship for the child for whom it is issued.
(d) After registration of the certificate of birth in the new name of the adopted person, the department shall seal and file the certificate of adoption, which is not subject to inspection, except upon order of the district court, as provided by rule, or as otherwise provided by state law.
(9) The department may promulgate rules necessary to implement this section.
Relevant Montana Law: Identifying Information
§ 42-6-103. Petition for appointment of confidential intermediary
(1) An adult adoptee, an adoptive or birth parent, or an adult extended family member of the adoptee or birth parent may petition the court for disclosure of identifying information regarding the adoptee, a birth child, a birth parent, or an extended family member.
(2) A petition for disclosure must contain:
(a) as much of the following information as is known by the petitioner:
(i) the name, address, and identification of the petitioner;
(ii) the date of the adoptee’s birth;
(iii) the county and state where the adoption occurred;
(iv) the date of the adoption; and
(v) any other information known to the petitioner concerning the birth parents, the adoptive parent, and the adoptee that could assist in locating the person being sought;
(b) written documentation from a certified confidential intermediary agreeing to conduct the search; and
(c) if the petitioner is not the adoptee or birth parent, the reason the petitioner is requesting the appointment of a confidential intermediary.
42-6-104. Appointment of confidential intermediary— duties— payment
(1) After a petition for disclosure has been filed under 42-6-103, the court shall appoint a confidential intermediary who shall:
(a) conduct a confidential search for the person sought as requested in the petition for disclosure;
(b) refrain from disclosing directly or indirectly any identifying information to the petitioner, unless ordered to do so by the court; and
(c) make a written report of the results of the search to the court not later than 6 months after appointment.
(2) Upon appointment, a confidential intermediary is entitled to be paid a reasonable fee plus actual expenses incurred in conducting the search. The fee and expenses must be paid by the petitioner.
(3) A confidential intermediary may inspect otherwise confidential records of the court, the department, or an authorized agency for use in the search. The confidential intermediary may not disclose identifying information from the records or any results of a search unless authorized by the court or unless the parties have executed written consent to the confidential intermediary. Nonidentifying information from any source may be disclosed without further order from the court.
(4) If a confidential intermediary locates the person being sought, a confidential inquiry must be made as to whether the located person consents to having that person’s present identity disclosed to the petitioner. The court may request that the confidential intermediary assist in arranging contact between the petitioner and the located person.
(5) If a confidential intermediary locates the person being sought and the located person does not consent to having that person’s identity disclosed, identifying information regarding that person may be disclosed only upon order of the court for good cause shown.
(6) If the person being sought is found to be deceased, the court may order disclosure of identifying information regarding the deceased to the petitioner.