Oregon’s Progressive Adoption Laws

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May 9, 2011

Last month, the issue of step-parent adoptions was addressed in the SK&H Insider. This month’s article is the second installment on the subject of adoption, with a focus on post-adoption contact between a birth parent and the child (adoptee).

In 1983, the Voluntary Adoption Registry was initiated to facilitate communication between a birth parent, adoptee, sibling of the adoptee, and other eligible relatives of the adoptee. The Oregon Department of Human Services maintains the Registry. In order to utilize the Registry, the adoption must have taken place in Oregon. The Registry is a passive system, and is dependent upon the adoptee’s participation in the service. Birth parents, siblings, and eligible relatives of an adoptee register by filing the appropriate paperwork and enrolling in the Mutual Consent Registry. If the adoptee has registered, non-identifying information such as medical histories are exchanged. Amazingly, DHS adoption records extend as far back as the 1920’s. Adoption records themselves are not open to inspection and, as a general rule, are never disclosed.

In 1993, the Oregon legislature established the Assisted Search Program, which allows adoptees and birth parents, siblings, and eligible relatives to exchange identifying information, including names and addresses. Registration with the Mutual Consent Registry is a prerequisite to the Assisted Search Program. All searches are confidential and identifying information is only exchanged if the person being sought consents after being contacted. An adoptee must be 18 years of age to participate in the Program.

As long as an adoption was finalized in Oregon, an adoptee over the age of 21 can obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. This right was established by Oregon’s Measure 58 in November 1998. The initiative made national headlines and was featured on National Public Radio, NBC’s Today Show, and newspapers throughout the nation. At the heart of the controversy – a group of birth mothers who argued that the measure violated past assurances of confidentiality. Although the measure passed in 1998, the first requests for birth certificates were not processed until May of 2000, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the matter.