The following is an updated list of answers and questions about New York’s newly enacted adoptee rights law, which Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed on November 14, 2019.
The Two Big Questions
Does this mean I can get my original birth certificate?
Yes. If you are an adopted person who was born in New York, you can get your OBC upon request under New York’s new law. That’s the point of all our work on this—an unrestricted right, and New York becomes the tenth state in the U.S. to restore that right to adult adopted people.
Where do I apply to get my OBC? Like, what do I do right now?
Yikes, hang tight. The law becomes effective January 15, 2020. No forms are ready for applying and no regulations, if any, have been proposed or implemented. You cannot go down to vital records tomorrow and ask for your OBC—they’ll tell you to get lost. You can do so beginning January 15, 2020, though we do not yet know specifically how that process will work.
What does the law do?
In a nutshell the new law requires the release to an adult adoptee, upon request and payment of the regular fee for a vital record, of an unaltered and unredacted certified long form copy of the adopted person’s original birth certificate (OBC).
How old does an adoptee need to be to request a copy of the OBC?
At least 18 years of age.
Is the OBC a certified copy?
Yes, the copy the department of health provides is certified. As a side note, certification of a document only relates to the vital records department attesting that the document is a true and correct copy of the original document on file. The legal definition of a certified copy in the State of New York is here.
I was born in Florida but adopted in New York. Does the new law do anything for me?
Yes. Under a separate provision in the law, those born in a state (or country) other than New York but adopted in New York may request and obtain, without restriction, the information that would normally appear on the adopted person’s original birth certificate. This information must be provided by either the agency that handled the adoption or by the court. How that process will work has not yet been determined.
I think my original birth certificate is held by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Does the new law address this?
Yes. The law specifically addresses and requires the New York City Department of Health to release an OBC to the adult adoptee upon request. This is an important provision and was something advocates specifically worked to assure. It also requires that other specific local registrars, if they have the OBC, to provide the OBC upon request.
Can descendants of adoptees obtain a copy of their ancestors’ OBC?
Yes, under the law the people who can obtain a certified copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate are: 1) the adopted person, if eighteen years of age or more; 2) the adopted person’s direct line descendants if the adoptee is deceased; or 3) the lawful representative of the adopted person.
How are descendants defined?
The bill uses the term “direct line descendants,” which would mean the children and grandchildren of the adult adoptee if the adoptee is deceased. This also includes any generation of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. New York state vital records regulations state that a “descendant is a person in the direct line of descent such as a son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter.”
Are the courts involved at all in the request for an original birth certificate?
No, the law separates the vital records process from the courts, as it should be. All requests are to be made to the state or local registrar of vital records, depending on where the OBC is filed. There is one exception, and that is for adult adoptees who do not have an original birth certificate available in New York but who were adopted in a New York court. See the previous question “I was born in Florida but adopted in New York. Does the new law do anything for me?”
Does this mean I can get my OBC in New York right now?
No. See the next question, “when does the law go into effect?”
When does the law go into effect?
It is effective January 15, 2020. The New York State Department of Health, however, is working to determine what regulations may be needed to implement the bill before it becomes fully effective. Unless you get a court order, you cannot get your OBC in New York upon request until at least January 15, 2020.
How long will it take for me to get my OBC once I apply for it?
We don’t know. We could expect anywhere from four weeks to four months or longer. This is governed by staffing but also how long it currently takes for requests for vital records in New York state or New York City. Some requests take up to eight months or more.
Where can I get more information and latest developments?
Get updates from the New York Adoptee Right Coalition (NYARC) on its website and follow NYARC on Facebook and Twitter, where the most up-to-date news will be posted. Adoptee Rights Law Center is a core partner in NYARC, along with the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York and Bastard Nation (and Reclaim the Records has been a fantastic strategic partner in all this).
When are you going to change your map?
Good question. I typically change my maps when a new law is fully implemented. If you are a nerd and want to watch the state of New York change from red to green on the map on 12:01am, January 15, 2020, I totally get that. I’m nerding out already thinking about that. Maybe we’ll have a collective toast live, right then and there. I’m seriously looking into making that happen.