An original birth certificate is usually requested by adoptees seeking certain information regarding their background. Here’s how to obtain an original birth certificate in California.

In California, adoptees usually have two birth certificates in the Office of Vital Records: one with their birth parents, and one that is amended (unless the adoptive parents request otherwise). According to California Health and Safety Code Section 102635, a new birth certificate will be ratified by the California State Registrar that contains the adoptive parents’ names instead of the birth parents. Adoptive parents can also request that certain information be removed from the new birth certificate according to California Health and Safety Code Section 102675, such as the name of the birth facility (usually a hospital), the adoptee’s city and/or country of birth, and the race of the adoptive parents. The previous version of the birth certificate, which contains the birth parents’ names, is referred to as the original birth certificate.

Types of Birth Certificates in California

There are two types of copies of birth certificates in California: a certified copy and a certified informational copy. Only a certified copy can be used for the purpose of identification. Certified copies can also be referred to as “authorized” copies, and can be used for travel, acquiring a passport, proof of citizenship, social security, obtaining a driver’s license, registering for school or security, identification, and other purposes within the California legal system. Certified informational copies will not have signatures or social security numbers. Compared to certified copies, certified informational copies are often kept for personal record-keeping.

In California, there exist restrictions on who can access an individual’s certified birth, death, and marriage certificates. Only the following people or entities have access:

  1. The individual whose certificate it is,
  2. That individual’s parents or legal guardians, children, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, spouse or domestic partner,
  3. A person or entity who has been authorized to access the certified certificate by a court order,
  4. An attorney representing the individual, the individual’s estate (the property they own/owned prior to death), or an attorney who is otherwise authorized by a court order,
  5. A licensed adoption agency who is requesting the certified birth certificate in order to fulfill the requirements of California Family Code Section 3140,
  6. A member of a law enforcement or governmental agency who is requesting the certificate for official matters (members of governmental agencies must procure authorization from the agency),
  7. A court-appointed person or entity who acts on behalf of the individual with power of attorney or executor. An executor is a court-appointed personal representative to a deceased individual who will collect the assets or pay the debts/expenses of the decedent, and later distribute the assets to said person’s legal beneficiaries (according to their will. If there is no will, this appointee is referred to as an ‘administrator’).
  8. A funeral establishment which requires the documentation for purposes identified in California Health and Safety Code Section 7100, and
  9. That individual’s Next of Kin as defined by California Health and Safety Code Section 7100.

Related: California Probate: What You Need to Know

The Confidential Section

There is also a confidential section of every person’s certified birth certificate. The information in this section is often used for purposes related to health or research. The confidential section has more access restrictions than the rest of the certified birth certificate. The only people authorized to access a copy of an individual’s full body birth certificate (one that contains both the confidential and non-confidential sections) are:

  1. That individual,
  2. The parent who signed the birth certificate (if no parent signed the birth certificate, then it defaults to the mother),
  3. A person who petitions to adopt the individual according to California Health and Safety Code Section 102705 and California Family Code Section 9200, and
  4. Certain State Registrar approved members of the Health Department or scientific staff.

The fees and mailing addresses to access ones’ certified birth, death or marriage certificates in California can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website here.

Obtaining Original Birth Certificates

The original birth certificate itself can only be obtained through a court order. California is a “closed adoption” state, which means that birth parents’ identification information must be kept confidential. Original birth certificates are referred to as “sealed” records. In the past, such vital records were contained in envelopes sealed with wax and could only be broken if ordered by a court. The term “breaking the seal” is still used when describing the court-ordered release of an original birth certificate, despite the fact that such files are now archived digitally.

During the adoption process, birth certificates are amended to include the new name of the adoptee (if changed) and lists the adoptive parents as the parents of the adoptee. Once the adoption process is finalized, the original birth certificate is sealed and becomes inaccessible to the public. In order for adoptees to access their original birth certificate in California, they must obtain a court order. However, it is important to note that these laws vary across states: not all states are closed adoption states.

An adoptee may wish to access their original birth certificates for a number of reasons, usually for information about their biological families and background, or to learn about their medical history. However, due to California’s closed adoption policy, the county clerks’ offices are unlikely to grant an adoptee access to their original birth certificate unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as a medical emergency or the birth parents are deceased. Even in these circumstances, identifying information regarding birth parents is not usually released.

In order to access this information, an adoptee will need to file a petition with their California county clerk’s office. The petitioning form is different for each California county. Once a court order is obtained, the adoptee should submit the court order along with a $25 fee to the following address so that the original birth certificate can be released:

California Department of Public Health
Office of Vital Records
P.O. Box 997410, M.S. 5103
Sacramento, CA 95899-7410

The petition will be answered by a California superior court, either where the adoptee resides or where the adoption was finalized. The superior court will decide whether or not there is “good and compelling evidence” for the court to grant access to the original birth certificate. If the adoptee filing the petition is an adult, the court will give “great weight” to this fact (meaning that it could help them obtain the court order), but the decision to do so is still up to the discretion of the court.

If an adoptee is seeking more information, they can contact the California Office of Vital Records at:
Phone number: 916) 445-8494 or (916) 557-6074
Email: VRMail@cdph.ca.gov
Or find more information on the website: www.cdph.ca.gov

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