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TENNESSEE COMPILATION OF SELECTED LAWS ON CHILDREN, YOUTH AND FAMILIES, 2011 EDITION

TENNESSEE CODE ANNOTATED

Title 36 Domestic Relations

Chapter 1 Adoption

Part 1 General Provisions

36-1-126. Record kept under seal - Confidential records - Access to certain records - Preservation of records.

(a) (1) After the entry of the final order of adoption;

(2) After entry of the final order dismissing the adoption;

(3) After entry of an order revoking the surrender or parental consent;

(4) After entry of an order dismissing a termination of parental rights proceeding filed in conjunction with an adoption proceeding; or

(5) Upon conclusion of all termination of parental rights proceedings that were filed in conjunction with an adoption proceeding;

all adoption records, court reports, home studies, preliminary home studies, other reports or other documents or papers or other information concerning the placement or attempted placement of a person for adoption, or other information concerning the litigation of the adoption or attempted adoption of a person, which information is in the office of the judge or clerk of the court where the adoption was filed or where the surrender or confirmation of parental consent or revocation of a surrender or parental consent was taken, or any such records, reports, or documents in the offices of a licensed child-placing agency, a licensed clinical social worker, or in the county, regional or state offices of the department of health, or in the county, district, and state offices of the department of children's services, shall be placed and remain under seal, except as provided herein or in § 36-1-118(e)(4), or in title 68, and shall be confidential and shall be disclosed only as provided in this part.

(b) (1) Upon the granting or dismissal of an adoption petition, or after entry of the final order dismissing the adoption or revoking the surrender or the parental consent or upon conclusion of all termination of parental rights proceedings that were filed in conjunction with an adoption proceeding, all records and reports, home studies, and preliminary home studies or other information described in subsection (a) relating to the adoption proceeding and all records, reports and other documents related to the child's placement with the department or the licensed or chartered child-placing agency or licensed clinical social worker and with the adoptive or prospective adoptive family that are in the offices of the department or in the offices of any Tennessee licensed child-placing agency or licensed clinical social worker, shall be forwarded by the county and district offices of the department's social services division and by the licensed child-placing agency or licensed clinical social worker involved in any such proceedings to the state office of the department, which shall place the records under seal and ensure their safekeeping; provided, that copies of any records that relate to a child who is placed or retained in the custody or guardianship of the department or a licensed child-placing agency after the dismissal of an adoption proceeding without further adoption of the child by any person or pursuant to any guardianship or other order of the court pursuant to this part shall be retained as confidential foster care records pursuant to title 37, chapter 2, part 4 and shall be utilized by the department or licensed child-placing agency for the care, supervision, protection, and treatment of that child as may be necessary.

(2) The licensed child-placing agency, chartered child-placing agency or licensed clinical social worker shall, however, maintain a limited record that indicates the child's date of birth, the date the agency received the child for placement, from whom the child was received and their last known address, with whom the child was placed and their last known address, and the court in which the adoption proceeding was filed and the date the adoption order was entered or the adoption petition dismissed.

(3) The information in the limited record shall be confidential and not open to inspection by any person, except as provided in this part. These records shall be maintained in a locked file or other secure depository by the agency or by the licensed clinical social worker or, if kept in electronic media, shall be maintained in a method that restricts access only to authorized agency personnel or the licensed clinical social worker. The limited record shall only be accessible to authorized agency personnel or the licensed clinical social worker or to authorized personnel of the department in the performance of its duties under this part or for inspection under the department's licensing duties, or as otherwise authorized by this part.

(4) Upon entry of an order of adoption or dismissal of a petition for adoption or dismissal of termination proceedings that were filed in conjunction with an adoption proceeding, or upon revocation of a surrender or parental consent, or modification of an order of guardianship, the clerk of the court where the adoption or surrender proceedings were initiated or filed shall forward a certified copy of the orders to the adoptions unit in the state office of the department in Nashville.

(5) (A) Any licensed child-placing agency or licensed clinical social worker that or who plans to cease conducting its activities related to the adoptive placement of children, the conduct of home studies, or any other such adoption-related services, shall notify the adoptions unit of the state office of the department in Nashville by certified mail, return receipt requested, thirty (30) days in advance, and shall forward all records related to any adoption-related services it has performed to the department.

(B) The department is specifically authorized to file a complaint and seek any necessary court orders, including injunctive relief of any kind, from any chancery or circuit court to preserve those records from loss or destruction and to obtain possession of those records for their preservation.

(C) Upon receipt of the records, reports, home studies and other information, the department shall take any necessary steps to preserve the records, reports, home studies and other information in accordance with this part. These records, reports, home studies and other information shall be filed as a sealed adoption record or sealed record, and all such records shall be confidential, and shall be otherwise subject to the provisions for access as provided pursuant to this part.

(6) (A) The clerks of the courts of this state are specifically authorized to undertake efforts to locate in any public building in their respective counties any records of adoptions or attempted adoptions of any person by any court, including former county courts or any court that previously had adoption jurisdiction, which records may be in the control or possession of any person or entity. Upon location of these records, if it is determined that the information therein was the result of an adoption that was filed or consummated and the clerk has no prior record of the adoption, the clerk shall record the existence of this adoption record in a special docket book for this purpose, shall maintain the adoption petition, consents or surrenders, and the order in a file for that purpose under the provisions of this part, and shall transmit to the department certified copies of the adoption petition, the surrenders and consents and the order of adoption, and the originals of any remaining documents in the record that have been located.

(B) Upon receipt of the record, the department shall take any necessary steps to preserve the record, and the record shall be treated as sealed adoption records pursuant to this part.

(c) (1) The sealed adoption record shall be registered by the department in such a manner as to record the names of the adopted person, the adopted person's birth name, the person's date of birth and social security number, the names of the adoptive parents, and, if possible, any information concerning the names of birth parents of the child that is readily accessible to the department, the court where the adoption was filed, the docket number of the court proceeding, and the date of the adoption decree or the order of dismissal of the adoption petition, the order revoking the surrender, or the order dismissing the order of guardianship; provided that sealed records may continue to be registered and maintained under prior departmental procedures. The department may record such other information as it shall deem necessary to maintain adequate information concerning the location of the sealed adoption record or sealed record and the means by which to locate such record.

(2) Such registration record shall be maintained in a secure manner so that no unauthorized persons may obtain access to the records. The sealed adoption record shall be placed in a separate sealed folder or in a suitable electronic media format wherein the record can be held under a separate file name, and shall be stored with the state records management unit of the department of general services, or its successor, which shall carefully protect and preserve the sealed adoption records or sealed records and shall maintain proper security for the confidentiality of the sealed adoption records or sealed records.

(3) If electronic methods of recording the information contained in the sealed adoption records or sealed records are employed, the departments of children's services and general services shall utilize any necessary methods to ensure the preservation and confidentiality of the electronic records.

(d) (1) The department may open the adoption records, the sealed adoption records, sealed records, or post-adoption records, adoption assistance records, or limited records in subsection (b) in order to perform any duties required under this part, and any specific provision for access to such records contained herein shall not be construed as a limitation on the ability of the department to access such records for such purposes.

(2) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, including § 68-3-313, the department shall, upon its request, be granted access to and shall be provided a copy of the original birth certificate or any order or record of adoption of the adopted person in the custody of the division of vital records.

(3) For purposes related to any federal or state audit relative to an adoption assistance program or an adoption assistance grant, the department may open any record for the sole and limited purpose of complying with the audit requirements of the federal or state program.

(4) For purposes related to the determination of eligibility of any child for adoption assistance, the departments of children's services and finance and administration, or any successor agencies responsible for the care of children in state custody or guardianship or for administration of the finances for children in state custody or guardianship, may open any adoption record, sealed adoption record, sealed record, post-adoption record, sealed home study records, or adoption assistance record for that limited purpose and may utilize any information in such records in any manner necessary for eligibility determination or adjudication of a claim for such assistance.

(5) (A) For purposes related to the determination of eligibility of any adopted person or any person placed for adoption for any federal or state benefit or any other benefits to which they may be entitled, or to provide to a Title IV-D child support office information necessary to verify the status of an adoption for purposes of determining a current or past child support obligation or for terminating a future obligation for child support, the departments of children's services and finance and administration, or any successor agencies responsible for the care of children in state custody or guardianship or for administration of the finances for children in state custody or guardianship, may open any adoption record, sealed adoption record, sealed record, post-adoption record, sealed home study records or any adoption assistance record and disclose any information contained in those records that may be necessary to permit determination of:

(i) Eligibility for or correction of payments made to or on behalf of an adopted person; or

(ii) The status of current, past or future child support obligations of child support that are, or may be, due on behalf of any adopted person.

(B) Any information released for any purpose of this subdivision (d)(5) shall be used only for the purposes stated in this subdivision (d)(5), and shall otherwise remain confidential in any agency or court records in which it may appear; and the information shall not be open to the public, except as otherwise provided by this part.

(6) The department may open or utilize for any purpose the adoption record, sealed adoption record, sealed record or the post-adoption record at any time in order to obtain any information concerning any person who may be placed in the custody or guardianship of the department or any other agency of the state or service provider of the state by any court or by the adopted person's parents, or who may be placed with the department or any other agency of the state or service provider of the state due to any re-surrender of the adopted person to the department by the adopted person's adoptive parents or the person's prospective adoptive parents.

(7) The department may open the sealed adoption record or sealed record when a birth certificate in the adopted name was not issued and it becomes necessary to open the sealed adoption record to provide any information to the office of vital records to complete the birth certificate.

(8) The department, the department of general services, or their specifically authorized agents, may open the sealed adoption records, sealed records, or post-adoption records at any time it becomes necessary to perform any tasks related to the preservation of the records, and each department is specifically authorized to utilize any methodology that now exists or that may be developed in the future for the permanent preservation of a sealed adoption record, sealed record or post-adoption record, and they may open the records for the limited purpose of undertaking these preservation methods. This subdivision (d)(8) shall not authorize the release of any information contained in the records to any other person or entity except as specifically authorized by this part, or as may be directly related to the preservation of the records.

(9) After use of the records pursuant to this subsection (d), they shall be re-sealed and returned to storage.

(e) In the event of an appeal from any ruling of the trial court in the adoption proceeding, the clerk shall place the court's record of the adoption proceedings in a sealed file in a locked file or other secure depository or, in the event of the use of electronic storage, the records shall be maintained in a secure method of storage that restricts access only to the clerk and other persons authorized by the court. These records shall remain confidential and shall not be open to inspection by anyone other than the trial or appellate courts, the clerk, the parties to the proceeding, or the licensed child-placing agencies, or the licensed clinical social worker, or the department or other governmental agencies that have been involved in the case, except by order of the court.

Acts 1951, ch. 202, § 24 (Williams, § 9572.38); 1975, ch. 280, § 1; modified; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 36-130; § 36-1-129; Acts 1995, ch. 532, § 1; 1996, ch. 1054, §§ 63-79; 1996, ch. 1079, § 69; 2008, ch. 1162, § 2.

Compiler's Notes. Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, referred to in this section, is compiled in 42 U.S.C. § 651 et seq.

Former § 36-1-126, concerning effect of adoption on relationship, was transferred to § 36-1-121.

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