A revision in Montana’s adoption law has made it easier for more people adopted as children to access their original birth certificates.
In the event of a closed adoption, the original birth certificate is sealed and a birth certificate is issued with the adoptive parents’ names.
As of Oct. 1, 2015, adoptees may request a copy of the original certificate without a court order, as long as they are 18 or older. The exception are people adopted between Oct. 1, 1985 and Oct. 1, 1997, who must obtain a court order.
“In the old law, anyone adopted between July 1, 1967 and Sept. 30, 1997 needed a court order,” said Jon Ebelt, public information officer for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. “So the law really does give a lot more people access to the original birth certificate.”
Since the law changed, the state’s office of vital statistics has received 105 requests to open sealed files.
One of the people who pushed for the legislation was Beth Jaffe, an adoption advocate who lives in Missoula. Jaffe gave up a son for adoption when she was 19, and she feels it’s crucial that children have access to information about their birth parents.
“The state has no business, in my opinion, of trying to be the ruler over people’s relationships,” Jaffe said Friday. “If a birth parent doesn’t want to have a relationship, they can say ‘no thank you.’ ”
Another crucial change that was made to the Montana law has to do with the rights of the birth parent.
“We are the only state in the nation that guarantees privacy to birth parents at the time of relinquishment,” Jaffe said. “They didn’t have that prior to 1997.”
As of 1997, the parent could sign paperwork at the time of the relinquishment stating they didn’t want their children to have access to information about them. The problem was, parents who changed their minds later couldn't reverse their initial decision.
The revision in the law allows birth parents to change their mind later and allow their child access to the information.
“I’m thrilled, I’m so happy,” Jaffe said. “I would love to get the word out that birth parents who signed the form for privacy can change their mind.”
She’d also like to see the law revised again, to deal with an inconsistency that remains in the statute. Those born before Oct. 1, 1985 or 30 years or more ago, whichever date is later, can complete a form to obtain the original birth certificate.
And people adopted on or after Oct. 1, 1997, once they turn 18, can follow that same process. But those adopted between Oct. 1, 1985 and Oct. 1, 1997 still must obtain a court order to get the birth certificate, which can be a costly expense.
Jaffe called it an “incorrect interpretation of the intent of the law,” one she hopes eventually will be changed. She also said that what applies in Montana can be different elsewhere.
“States have the power of working with these documents and record keeping,” Jaffe said. “You have to go state by state, and it’s a total patchwork of unpredictability for people.”