How to Get Birth Certificate in Tennessee if You Were Adopted
Tennessee OBC Access Status: Sealed state with access to the original birth certificate to adoptees at age 21; with certain criteria met, forms filled, fees paid and a threat of penalty if one searches contrary to a contact veto.
Access to Original Birth Certificate in Tennessee
Per Tennessee Citation: Ann. Code § 36-1-130- The original birth certificate is available to parties who have established their eligibility to have access to adoption records however, it is rather complicated and one MUST got through the state and there are fees associated with searches and getting required permission.
On January 1, 1996, records of adoptions or attempted adoptions that existed pre-March 16, 1951, and all records of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society were opened to adopted persons and their birth and adoptive relatives. The March 16, 1951, date was used because prior to that date, no adoption records were sealed. Adoption records were sealed on that date by legislative action, but interestingly the legislature never expressly sealed the records retroactively. The pre-1951 records were sealed by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services anyway. All Tennessee Children’s Home Society records were opened in recognition of the scandalous practices of that state-chartered adoption agency.
Accessing Non-Identifying Adoption Information in Tennessee
An important aspect of the law is the provisions regarding access to non-identifying information.
Non-identifying information is generally information that would not lead to discovery of a person’s identity. The section lists information that is considered non-identifying, and requires the Department to release the information upon written request to an adopted person 18 years of age or older, the adoptive parents of an adopted child under 18 years of age, biological or legal relatives of the adopted person, or the adopted person’s lineal descendant. Birth parents can also receive information under this section. Listed as non-identifying information is:
The date and time of birth of the adopted person and such person’s weight and other physical characteristics at birth;
The age of the adopted person’s biological relatives at the time of such person’s birth;
The nationality, ethnic background, race and religious preference of the biological or legal relatives;
The education level of the biological or legal relatives, general occupation and any talents or hobbies;
A general physical description of the biological or legal relatives, including height, weight, color of hair, color of eyes, complexion and other similar information;
Whether the biological or legal parent had any other children, and if so, any available non-identifying information about such children; and
Available health history of the adopted person, and the person’s biological or legal relatives, including specifically, any psychological or psychiatric information which would be expected to have any substantial effect on the adopted person’s mental or physical health.
This information is available without judicial action or demonstration of any particular need for information. The fee for this information is currently $45.
Medical Updates for Adoptions in Tennessee
The Department is required to serve as intermediary for transmitting updated medical information between the birth and adoptive families. There is no fee for this service.
Identifying Adopting Information in Tennessee
Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-127(c) requires release of all information including identifying information to adopted persons, 21 years old or older, upon the adopted person’s request, proof of identification, payment of a fee, and written acknowledgment of contact veto rules including an agreement not to contact anyone eligible to file a contact veto. If the person obtaining information wants to contact someone eligible to file a contact veto, they must have the contact veto registry checked and get clearance to make the contact before any contact is made. No judicial action or demonstration of a particular need is required to obtain information under this section.
Effective July 1, 1999 any person about whom information could be released pursuant to T.C.A. § 36-1-127(c) can file a request to be given advance notice before any record containing information about them can be released. The notice of impending release is to be mailed to the registered person 15 days prior to the release of the information to the party that requested it.
Identifying information is never given out in the following situations without a court order:
If the adoptee is under 21 years old;
If the records show that the birth mother was a victim of rape or incest and has not consented to release of the information;
If the requesting party’s or such person’s representative had their parental rights to the adopted person involuntarily terminated for cause; or
If the record indicates that the requesting party or that person’s relative neglected or committed a crime of violence against the adopted person;
The following information is not available at all:
The adoptive parents’ home study (this is documentation of the underlying investigation; but the court report, which is a summary of the investigation, is available); and
Crisis pregnancy counseling information regarding the birth parents.
Adoption Contact Veto Registration in Tennessee
A contact veto is the recorded intention that the filing party does not want to be contacted by anyone (or by specifically designated persons) from whom he or she was separated by adoption. A contact veto only expresses a person’s willingness or unwillingness to have contact and has no effect on release of information, identifying or otherwise. The following people can file a contact veto or otherwise register their preferences:
Birth and adoptive parents;
Birth and adoptive siblings;
Lineal ancestors of the adopted person;
Lineal descendants of the adopted person;
The adopted person’s spouse; or
The legal representative of these people.
Adopted people do not have to file contact vetoes. Their contact veto is assumed unless a contrary intent is recorded. Others, including birth parents, must express an intention. If they cannot be found by DCS to ask, contact is allowed. Once a contact veto is filed, the person filing it is notified every time anyone requests contact with them.
If the person with whom contact is sought is not found, there is no prohibition on contact unless the person to be contacted is the adopted person. Adopted people are assumed not to want contact unless a contrary intention is expressed.
IMPORTANT! Penalties for Violation Contact in Adoption in Tennessee
If there is a contact veto, or in the case of an adopted person, if there is no registration of a desire for contact and such person is contacted, the person contacted can sue the person who contacted them in circuit or chancery court for injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages. The prevailing party shall also be entitled to attorney’s fees and court costs.
If information obtained under the open records statute is used to cause injury to a person whose name was obtained, it is a Class C misdemeanor and subjects the person who used the information to civil penalties.
FOR RULES AND FORMS ON THE RELEASE OF NON-IDENTIFYING INFORMATION FROM RECORDS OF ADOPTIONS, CLICK HERE.
FOR COMPLETE RULES AND FORMS GOVERNING ACCESS TO ADOPTION RECORDS FOR ADOPTIONS FINALIZED ON AND AFTER MARCH 16, 1951, CLICK HERE.
Tennessee Birth Certificates, Court Records and Agency Records
Those eligible to get identifying information from DCS will also get a letter authorizing them to obtain their original or amended birth certificates from the Department of Health, court records, adoption agency records and adoption records from any other information source.
Judicial Access to Sealed Adoption Records in Tennessee
The Tennessee Code provides a judicial process for access to identifying information based upon a showing of best interest of the adopted person or the public, plus one of the reasons enumerated below:
for purposes of treating or preventing a physical, psychological or psychiatric condition affecting any person,
for purposes of establishing legal status or standing for inheritance or for property rights determinations or for the determination of legal relationships for third parties,
for the movant to prosecute or defend a legal proceeding,
movant is any public agency which requires the disclosure of the information in such record for the purposes directly related to its authorized duties,
movant is an individual who has sought disclosure under the provisions of §§ 36-1-127(e)(2) or (3); or,
movant is a lineal descendant of a deceased adopted person.39
On September 27, 1999 the Supreme Court of Tennessee at Nashville issued an opinion in the case of PROMISE DOE, ET AL., VS. DONALD SUNQUIST, ET. AL and upheld a new adoption records law that was to take effect July 1, 1996. After more than three years of litigation, the Supreme Court concluded that the disclosure of adoption records created on or after March 16, 1951 does not impair the vested rights or violate the right to privacy under the Tennessee constitution. This ruling by the Supreme Court allows the Department of Children’s Services to begin processing requests for services to persons eligible to have access to their adoption records.
The department is able to act under provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated §36-1-12 ( c ) to provide access to adoption records, sealed adoption records, sealed records, post adoption records, or records from any other information source that were created on or after March 16, 1951.
Adoption records may be released pursuant to court order as provided in Tennessee Code §36-1-138. If any adoption was attempted or occurred before March 16, 1951, the law affecting services available to eligible persons was effective July 1, 1995.
Adoption records for eligible persons are available to those surrendered for the purpose of adoption; for adoptions which were filed and dismissed or not completed, and the record was closed or sealed prior to March 16, 1951; and for any records maintained at any time by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
The adoption record includes sealed adoption records, post-adoption records, court records, adoption agency and Department of Health Vital records.
For more information, call the office of Post Adoption Services at 615-532-5637.
Who May Access Adoption Information in Tennessee
Legislation effective July 1, 1996 allowed certain persons the right to request access to adoption records, sealed records, and post adoption records of adoptions which were attempted or occurred on or after March 16, 1951. Those persons eligible to request access are:
The adopted person 21 years of age or older
The adopted person’s birth/adoptive/step or legal parent 21 years of age or older
The adopted person’s birth or adoptive siblings 21 years of age or older
The adopted person’s lineal ancestors 21 years of age or older
The adopted person’s lineal descendants 21 years of age or older
The legal representatives of any of these person
The Tennessee Adoption Advance Notice Registry The Advance Notice Registry has been established by the Department of Children’s Services for the purpose of allowing eligible individuals to receive 15 days notice prior to the release of records.
The person filing with the Advance Notice Registry will only be notified of the impending release of records when such records contain identifying information about the filing person and the filing person meets all of the eligibility requirements. Notification of the impending release of records will be sent by certified mail, (return receipt requested) at the most recent address filed with the Registry.
NOTE: Persons ineligible to access adoption records and receive Advance Notification include:
a parent or pre-adoptive guardian whose rights were involuntarily terminated for cause
a sibling, lineal ancestor, spouse or legal representative of the person whose rights were involuntarily terminated for cause
a person guilty of a crime of violence or neglect against the adopted person
Registration must be on a form supplied by the Department, and contain an original signature. Forms may be requested by contacting:
Department of Children’s Services Post Adoption Services 436 Sixth Avenue North Nashville, TN 37243-1290 615-532-5637