New Jersey is among the majority of states in which child adoption records are sealed, which is known as a “closed adoption.” Prior to 1941 New Jersey adoption records were open, meaning they are public information. But since 1941 adoption records are confidential and not available to the public.
A closed adoption means the adopted child and the adopting parents and also the birth parents won’t know each other’s names or contact information any point in the adoption process, or after it is completed. In many cases there is a birth mother only because the birth father’s name is not shown on a birth certificate, meaning the child and the adopting parents have no record of the birth mother’s name, family history or location.
Historically, the purpose of sealing adoption records was protection of the new family’s rights from any intrusion by birth parents, siblings or extended family members. The sanctity of the newly-created family was a priority over all others associated with the adopted child. Naturally, if an older child was adopted, one who had known and lived with his or her birth parents or other family members, a closed adoption was simply not possible.
That situation was and still is called an “open adoption.” Prior to 1917 when Minnesota became the first state in the US to seal adoption records, all US adoption records were open to the public, so children could discover their birth parents and birth parents could find their birth children.
At the present time there is a movement to open adoption records again, to allow children and their birth parents to share information such as medical history and even to meet each other. Sometimes the birth parents are not in favor of their child reuniting with birth parents, siblings or other family members, so it becomes a family law issue.
In the state of New Jersey each county has a Surrogate’s Court which maintains sealed adoptions. The only way to open these court records is to obtain a court order from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part.
A family law attorney with experience in adoption issues can help you navigate the court system, whether you are an adopted parent, an adopted child, a birth parent or birth sibling. In any case you will benefit from the advice of a family lawyer in New Jersey.