How to Open Adoption Records in California
By Faith O
Updated March 18, 2019
California is a closed adoption state, with a few exceptions, and adoption records with identifying information can only be shared by consent of all the parties involved or at the discretion of a Superior Court judge. There are two ways this can happen by consent: through the Mutual Consent Program (MCP_ or the Adoptions Information Act (AIA). Under the MCP, written notarized consent is required of both an adoptee 18 years or older and the birth parents.
Under the AIA an adoptee who is 21 years or older and who was adopted on or after January 1, 1984, can request records if at the time of adoption the birth parents signed a consent form or parental rights were terminated by court order.
Getting Non-Identifying Information
Contact the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) or the adoption agency (if known) if you require non-identifying information such as general facts about the birth parents, background information and medical history. To receive this information you need to make a written request to the CDSS or the adoption agency. If you do not know what the agency is, you can send a written and notarized request to the CDSS.
Your request must contain your name, birth date, and the full names of both of your adoptive parents. The address for the CDSS is: California Department of Social Services, Adoptions Support Unit, 744 P Street, MS 8-12-31, Sacramento, CA 95814.
Before and After 1984
The first step in obtaining identifying information is to determine how you should apply. As the adoptee, you must be at least 18 years old to request adoption records that provide identifying information of your birth parents through the MCP program. If you are 21 or older and your adoption took place on or after January 1, 1984, you may be eligible for the AIA program. The process varies, depending which of those avenues you choose to pursue.
Under the Mutual Consent Program
To gain information about your birth parents through the MCP, complete and notarize the California Department of Social Services' Consent for Contact form and send it in to the CDSS or the adoption agency. The form will be kept in the adoption file and if your birth parents send in the same form the names and last known addresses of both parties will be sent out to the other party. If you so choose you can check the box to have non-identifying information from your adoption file sent to you. The CDSS and adoption agencies are by law not allowed to initiate contact with or solicit consent from either party.
Under the Adoptions Information Act
Complete, notarize and send in the AIA form if your adoption took place on or after January 1, 1984, and you are at least 21 years old. The form should be sent to the CDSS or the adoption agency and you will be sent the names and last known addresses of your birth parents if and when they send in consent forms, or if they provided written consent at the time of the adoption.
Opening Records Through the Courts
Petition the county's Superior Court. If you need all the information in your adoption file such as your original birth certificate and you cannot go through any of the processes outlined above or do not have the luxury of time to do so, you may petition the Superior Court of the county where you live or where the adoption took place. Your petition should be filed under the Health and Safety Code Section 102705 in the county clerk's office of the Superior Court to get access to the original birth certificate.
File a petition under Family Code Section 9200 in the Superior Court of the county where the adoption was finalized to gain access to documents contained in the adoption file that is maintained by the Superior Court. It is the sole discretion of the court to grant or deny this request.
Ten California counties are open counties and allow the adoptive parents to request identifying adoption records from the Superior Court. This applies only to adoptions finalized in an open county, regardless of whether the adoptee was born in or currently resides in a closed county. The adoptive parents will need to send a written notarized request to the clerk of the Superior Court in the county.
Faith O has covered politics and general news in Washington DC, Chicago and Maryland. Her writing has appeared in the Associated Press, Prince George's Sentinel, Northwest Indiana Times, Chicago Defender and Daily Southtown, among others. She has a Masters of Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School and a Bachelor's degree from Hampshire College in Amherst.