Tobi Hill-Meyer

My Own Adoption Deemed "Confidential"

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | June 05, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: second parent adoption

When second parent adoption became legal in Oregon I was 16. My parents and I jumped at the chance to be legally recognized as a whole family. Within that process, we had the chance to change my name. Since I had always gone by my middle name, Tobi, and never liked my first name, we decided to legally drop that first name.

Now I find myself needing proof of that name change, and after updating my birth certificate, the only proof in existence is the adoption papers. But when I went down to the court archive to pick up a copy, I was told that they were confidential -- only the adoptive parents or their lawyer can access them. Apparently, being the one who was adopted wasn't enough!

It's a bit insulting to be told that you're not worthy of seeing your own adoption papers, but it's even more perplexing when we're talking about a second parent adoption. My parents never changed, only their legal status did. And even if they had, in a second parent adoption, no one loses custody, only one person gains it. What could possibly be in those papers that the adoptee wouldn't already know?

I'm lucky that I'm on good terms with my parents, lucky that they still live in town, and lucky that one of them can take off work between 9-12 or 1-4 to pick up the papers. But this confidentiality law seems ridiculous, especially when I think back to the requirement to publicly post my intention to change my legal sex before I was allowed to do so. Somehow, that seems a bit more personal and confidential that the fact that both my parents didn't always have that legal status.

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Many states had for years, and some may even today have laws for adoptions that hide adoption paperwork from almost everybody. It was kind of a religious / morals thing. However, many states now have "Open" adoptions, where there is no shame and no need to hide adoption data. My youngest son is an "Open" adoptee and my wife was in the delivery room during delivery. We took our son home from the hospital. Our son knows his birth mom, knows she is his birth mom, and calls her Aunt Sue.

You are the unfortunate result of antiquated morality laws about adoption and I feel for you.

I have been an adoptee rights activist for a long time. Most states still treat adoptees as though we have no rights and deny access to our records as a matter of course.

I suppose I have heard of that issue. But I naively thought it wouldn't apply to me. I mean, I was raised by my birth parents, if someone asked me if I was adopted I'd say no.

Suddenly having to deal with this and realizing that if someone wasn't on good terms with their parents or if their parents were dead, then they wouldn't be able to get access at all -- it made it quite clear how unjust that system is.

Absolutely ridiculous. You got trapped in the whole "privacy for those who gave up their child" trap. (As if adoptees shouldn't be able to know their families "shameful" history or whatever.)


Adoption information is confidential in most states. It is primarily to allow the adults involved the ability to adopt or to release a child for adoption and not have everyone have access to that information. As an adopted child I would love to have access to that information and think that adult children should be able to find out more about their own history. However I also know of cases where the information has been more than the people were ready to deal with at the time. As a professional I encourage adoptive parents to be as "open" as possible with their children. Just like most things in life there are pros and cons. But if confidentuality will encourage birth parents to pursue adoption as an option that is great. But I do think there needs to be reform about adult children having a right to their own records.

For example divorce info is public and the media and anyone can go and pull someones file and read it. I believe that most of us would not want just anyone being able to look into our private family information. It is none of their business. Just my 2 cents.

Part of the oddity I faced was that the information I wanted had nothing to do with adoption, it was just on the same piece of paper. I wonder if I had asked if they could have given me a copy with the adoption information blacked out.

It was also fairly disconcerting that without that paper as proof of my name change, I never would be able to access the college fund my grandmother set up when I was born as she passed away a few years ago.


It does seem like yours is a unique situation, yet one possibly shared by many others. I think the law could and should change for cases like yours - as I understand it, yours is a case of cross-adoption, yes? Laws regulating access to birth parent records need to accomodate such instances. And I don't see why, in the case of Oregon, adoptive *parents* are able to access the records but not adoptees (are adoptees just marked as perennial children, who cannot have access to their information?).

But I'm also sympathetic to the need for privacy for birth parents who relinquish their children to adoption. If I were one of them, I wouldn't want my child to be able to find me, in all honesty. As I understand it, the laws protecting confidentiality were not for reasons of morality, or at least not entirely. Confidentiality to protect the birth parent is still a pretty good reason and ought to be honoured.

In this era of increased open adoptions, it's useful to remember that not everyone who gives birth - and many are compelled to give birth for reasons beyond their control, including horribly restrictive abortion laws -- wants a connection to the child, and that such a connection, when forced upon them, can be immensely traumatic.

Yes, the situation I'm describing is called second parent adoption here. Growing up with two moms, I only had a legal relationship to one of them, and she would have had to give up custody for my other mom to gain it -- until I was 16. So it was only a legal device for giving my other mom (who had raised me since birth) a legal status.

I can understand birth parents not wanting a connection to the child, but that's not all the info on the papers -- thus my thought of making a version available with the names of the birth parents blacked out as one option.

Given that it's standard advice for all same-sex parents to undergo a second parent adoption (even if they have domestic partnership or marriage when a child is born), I'm concerned on the impact this might have on queerspawn.

Oh, absolutely, that's definitely a matter of concern for queerspawn (great word). I know second parent adoption is standard practice in Illinois.

There has to be a better way for the law to deal with these complexities -- which would mean that the law has to start catching up with the realities of queer families. Illinois, to the best of my knowledge, is fairly progressive in these matters, but now I wonder what the law is here on cases like yours...

Off to dig around...

Every child should know who her or his parents are.