The Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry is maintained by the Division of Family and Children Services (“DFCS”) to organize and provide information to connect adopted individuals and their families. As DFCS states on the Reunion Registry website, “adoptees, birth parents, or siblings who have been permanently separated through adoption often reach a time in their lives when they want more information about their biological family. This ‘need to know’ may be due to medical, genetic, genealogical, or personal reasons.”
The need to know may come at any point in a person’s lifetime – in conjunction with a happy occasion, like a wedding, or at a tragic life moment, like the onset of an illness. Georgia Legislation attempts to strike a balance between disclosure of information, and protecting the physical and mental well being of the person seeking the information.
Under the recent changes to the adoption law effective September 2018, the age requirements in portions of the law regarding the reunion registry has been lowered from 21 to 18. At age 18, an adoptee may now initiate a search in the Adoption Reunion Registry for information about birth parents and biological siblings; siblings of an adopted individual may initiate a search request; a deceased adoptee’s child may initiate a search request on grandparents; and an adoptee will be notified when a search request has been initiated by a biological parent trying to find them.
The Georgia Department of Human Services (the “Department”) shall release to an adopted individual over 18 or to the adoptive parent of a child nonidentifying information on biological parents and the information of the adopted child’s birth. This information may include date and place of birth, and genetic, social and health history of biological parents. No information released shall include the name or address of either biological parent or any relative of either biological parent.
To release names on a biological parent to an adopted individual, the biological parents must submit their unrevoked written consent. Then, a detailed summary of all information the Department or placement agency has concerning the adoptee’s birth, foster care, placement for adoption, and finalization of his or her adoption will be released. This process is also similar for siblings (who must be over the age of 18) who wish to seek information on the biological family of the adopted individual.
The Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry establishes a process for helping adopted individuals and other information seekers to obtain information even where consent for release is not given, or in cases where the Department or adoption placement agency unsuccessfully is not able to make the necessary contact to get permission for release of information. Under Georgia law, if the Department or placement agency is not able to make contact with the biological parents or cannot obtain their permission, after 6 months of receipt of the adopted individuals written request, an adopted individual over 18 years old can petition the Superior Court of Fulton County for release of the information. The court shall grant the disclosure of information if several factors are met, including if the failure to release the identity of each biological parent would have an adverse impact upon the physical, mental or emotional health of the adopted individual.
Similar procedures are set up for the biological parents to contact the adopted individual, once that individual has reached the age of 18. The procedures in place carefully protect the adopted individual, by requiring that the adopted individual first be notified that an “inquiry,” generally, is taking place. Then, if the adopted individual grants consent, the Department or placement agency forwards to the adopted individual the biological parent’s name and address, a summary of all adoption information, including adoptee’s birth, foster care, placement for adoption, and finalization of the individual’s adoption. If the adopted individual grants consent, the Department or placement agency can provide their name and address to the biological parent. As with information requests from adopted individuals and their siblings, the biological parent may petition the Fulton County Superior Court if consent is denied or contact is unsuccessful.
The laws regarding the Reunion Registry also provides for records to be updated to include the death of a biological parent or adopted individual, place of burial, log of all attempted inquiries, and provides good faith immunity for employees of the Department or placement agency attempting to assist with the release of information.