Ohio Adoption Registry
1996 Changes

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Changes were made Ohio's adoption laws in 1996. This article is a summary of the impact of these changes on the Mutual Consent Registry.

Background

The state of Ohio maintains what it calls the "Ohio Adoption Registry", or as it is often called, the "Mutual Consent Registry". The idea behind the Mutual Consent Registry is that if both the birth parents and the child they gave up for adoption wish to be re-united, they may do so, but if either wishes to retain their privacy, that wish will be respected.

Some adopted people objected to this system because they felt they had a right to seek out and meet their birth parents. Others (including adoption advocacy organizations and Ohio Right to Life) believed that birth parents had a right to privacy if they choose, and that for some the option of privacy was crucial to their decision to give birth and put the child up for adoption rather than aborting or perhaps choosing some other alternative.

In 1996, the Ohio state legislature passed a law making significant changes to this process. The changes represented something of a compromise between these two competing goups. The right to privacy was generally retained, but procedures were streamlined to make it easier to get information.

Immediate Impact

While the changes were significant, the immediate impact is almost zero. This is because the changes are not retroactive. That is, they only apply to adoptions which take place after the effective date of the new law, September 19, 1996. As the adopted child must be at least 18 before any information can be requested under the law, and it is likely that a child who is, say 10 years old or older at the time of the adoption will remember what his or her name was before the adoption and probably have at least some idea of where he lived, it will likely be at least 8 years before the new process is really used.

The Changes

There are several important changes in the workings of the registry.

  1. Under the old system, information about the birth-parents identify was kept confidential unless they filed a form with the state Department of Health saying that they wanted this information released to their birth-child. Under the new law, at the time of the adoption the birth-parents must fill out a form which asks (among other things) whether they want identifying information released to their child. They must explicitly check "yes" or "no".

    It is certainly fair to presume that many parents did not know that they had to file this form to release information. People at the adoption agency may have failed to tell them, or in the midst of the difficult decisions being made they may not have really heard what was said. By requiring a specific yes or no, the new law gives the assurance that the birth parent has at least given some thought to the whole question.

    Note that like the old system, under the new law the birth parent may change her mind any number of times, giving and removing permission to release information. (Of course once the child actually gets information, it is too late to change her mind again, but that is the only limit.)

    This also helps a problem some people pointed out: No matter how much respect one has for the people at the Department of Health, surely they sometimes make mistakes. Under the old system, if a birth-parent filed a release and it was lost or mis-filed, there was no way to tell a mistake had been made: it would look like the birth-parents had not filled out a release. Under the new system, there should be a form in the file with either a yes or a no box checked. If this form is missing, then it is clear that there has been a mistake, and action can be taken to find the missing form.

  2. Under the old system, an adopted person could check if a release had been filed, but if there was no release at the time they checked, they would be turned away. If the birth mother showed up the next day and filed the form, it was too late. Of course the adopted person could come back and check again, but how often should they check?

    Under the new system, the adopted person can request that he or she be notified if a birth parent ever shows up and files a release. Thus, they no longer have to play games with timing. Whoever shows up first, the registry will make the connection whenever the other person shows up.

  3. Forms have been added on which birth parents can report medical history, without any "identifying information" about the birth parents.

    One of the objections to privacy was that an adopted person may have a hereditary illness, intolerance to medication, or some such condition where it would be beneficial to know family medical history. Under the new system, the state will ask birth parents for this information and it will then be available to the adopted child, without compromising the birth parents' privacy.

  4. An adopted person may now receive "nonidentifying information" about his birth parents. The law specifically says that this includes such things as the birth parents' age, race and ethnicity, occupation, religion, and general physical description.

    Note: In the above we repeatedly talk about "birth parents". The law also provides for a birth brother or sister to attempt to contact the adopted person, or for one parent to make contact but not the other. (For example, if they are divorced or separated.)

    Other changes

    Other important changes to adoption law under this bill were:
    1. Once a final adoption order is issued by a court, a birth parent may not change his or her mind about the decision to put a child up for adoption.

      This clause was surely included in response to a number of well-publicized cases in other states in which birth parents came along years after an adoption and won court battles to take the child away from the adoptive parents. According to this law, this cannot happen in Ohio. While the process of adoption takes many months, once that last paper is signed, that's it.

    2. If the father of a child is not married to the mother and does not come forward within 30 days of the child's birth, he loses all rights to contest an adoption. Similarly, a parent who has abandoned a child loses all rights to contest an adoption.


    This article is based on the author's study of the text of the law and discussions with personnel at the Department of Health. Note: The author is not a lawyer, and nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.
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    Posted 9 Sep 2000.

    Copyright 1997 by Ohio Right to Life.
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