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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

36-1-127. Availability of records to adopted persons and certain other persons for adoptions finalized or attempted prior to certain dates.

(a) (1) On March 16, 1951, Chapter 202 of the Public Acts of 1951 became effective. As a result, all records related to persons who had been adopted, all records concerning a person for whom any records were maintained and that may have related to an adoption or attempted adoption and that were treated by the department of human services, the former department of public welfare, the courts, the department of health, or any other information sources as a sealed record or sealed adoption record involving an adoption or attempted adoption of a person, became confidential, non-public records that were not made readily available to persons about whom the records were kept.

(2) It is the intent of the general assembly that all adoption records, court records, sealed records, or sealed adoption records, and post-adoption records and other records or information, except as may otherwise be provided in this part, and that are contained in any information source on and after January 1, 1996, and that were in existence on March 16, 1951, be made available to eligible persons as provided in this part, and that to that end this is remedial legislation.

(3) It is the further intent of the general assembly, in view of the testimony before the adoption study commission established by Senate Joint Resolution 17 of the Ninety-Eighth General Assembly (1993 session), which testimony demonstrated the great concern by many persons regarding the practices of certain Tennessee adoption agencies in earlier years, that any adoption records, sealed records, sealed adoption records or post-adoption records, or other records maintained at any time by the Tennessee children's home society or its branches or divisions, chartered on June 24, 1913, and authorized under Chapter 113 of the Public Acts of 1919; and any branch or division thereof, including an organization known as the Tennessee children's home society-Shelby County division, which was referenced in the report of the Tennessee department of public welfare to Governor Gordon Browning dated June 12, 1951, shall also be made available to eligible persons in accordance with this part, whether such records were completed or sealed before, on, or after March 16, 1951, and whether any persons subject to the care and supervision of such agency or its branches were ever actually adopted, and to that end this is remedial legislation.

(b) Effective January 1, 1996, pursuant to the requirements of subsections (g) and (h), and subject to the restrictions in the following sections or subsections:

(1) (A) All adoption records, sealed records, sealed adoption records, post-adoption records, home studies, or any other records or papers, existing prior to March 16, 1951, and relating to the adoption or attempted adoption of a person, which adoption was finalized by completion of the adoption by the entry of an order of adoption or an order of dismissal of the adoption proceeding prior to March 16, 1951; or which adoption was otherwise never completed due to the abandonment, prior to March 16, 1951, of any further necessary activity related to the completion of the adoption, and which records were sealed or closed by the court before that date, or where the record or other evidence demonstrates that a person was surrendered for adoption prior to March 16, 1951; or

(B) Any adoption records, sealed records, sealed adoption records, post-adoption records, or any other records or papers, existing prior to March 16, 1951, and relating to the adoption or attempted adoption of a person that before the effective date of Chapter 532 of the Public Acts of 1995 [see Compiler's Notes], have been treated as, or have been determined by the department or any other information source to be, cases of adoptions finalized by the completion of the adoption by the entry of an order of adoption or by entry of an order of dismissal of the adoption prior to March 16, 1951; or that have been treated by or are determined by the department as finalized adoptions due to the abandonment, prior to March 16, 1951, of any further necessary activity related to the completion of the adoption, or where the record or other evidence demonstrates that a person was surrendered for adoption prior to March 16, 1951; or

(2) All adoption records, sealed records, sealed adoption records, post-adoption records, or any other papers or records, existing either before or after March 16, 1951, concerning a person who was subject to the care and supervision, or subject to placement for foster care or adoption, by any agency described in subdivision (a)(3), or which records were maintained by any child care or child-placing agency that had, either before or after March 16, 1951, subsequently assumed the care and supervision of a child who had previously been subject to the care and control of an agency described in subdivision (a)(3), whether or not the adoption of such person was the plan, whether the person was placed for the purpose of adoption or whether the adoption was finalized by entry of an order of adoption or by order of dismissal of the adoption, whether the adoption was attempted, or was otherwise never completed due to failure to file an adoption petition or due to the abandonment of any further necessary activity related to the completion of the adoption, either before or after March 16, 1951; and

(3) Which records are in the office of the clerk of the adoption court, in the offices of the department of health, in the office of any child-placing agency, whether or not it is chartered or licensed, in the state, district, or county offices of the department of children's services, or in any other information source, shall be made available to the following eligible persons:

(A) An adopted person or a person subject to subdivision (b)(1) and (2) who is twenty-one (21) years of age or older for whom an adoption record, sealed record, sealed adoption record, post-adoption record, or other record or paper is, nevertheless, maintained;

(B) The parents of any person described in subdivision (b)(3)(A);

(C) The siblings of any person described in subdivision (b)(3)(A);

(D) The lineal descendants, twenty-one (21) years or older, of any person described in subdivision (b)(3)(A);

(E) The lineal ancestors of a person described in subdivision (b)(3)(A); or

(F) The legal representatives of the person described in subdivisions (b)(3)(A)-(E).

(c) Effective July 1, 1996, pursuant to the requirements of subsections (g) and (h), and subject to the restrictions in the following sections or subsections:

(1) (A) All adoption records, sealed records, sealed adoption records, post-adoption records, or any other records or papers for a person relating to the adoption or attempted adoption of a person, which adoption was finalized by the completion of the adoption by the entry of an order of adoption or an order of dismissal of the adoption proceeding on or after March 16, 1951, or which records relate to an adoption or attempted adoption where the adoption petition was filed on or after March 16, 1951, or that was otherwise never completed, due to the abandonment, as determined by the department, on or after March 16, 1951, of any further necessary activity related to the completion of the adoption, and which records are in the office of the clerk of the adoption court, in the offices of the department of health, in the office of any child-placing agency, whether or not it is chartered or licensed, in the state, district, or county offices of the department of children's services, or in any other information source, shall be made available to the following eligible persons:

(i) An adopted person or a person subject to subdivision (c)(1)(A) who is twenty-one (21) years of age or older on whom an adoption record, sealed record, sealed adoption record, post-adoption record, or other record or paper is maintained;

(ii) The legal representative of a person described in subdivision (c)(1)(A)(i).

(B) Information from any records of an adopted person, or any person otherwise subject to subdivision (c)(1)(A) for whom records are otherwise maintained, shall be released by the department or any other information source only to the parents, siblings, lineal descendants, or lineal ancestors, of the adopted person or of a person for whom records are maintained as described in subdivision (c)(1)(A), and only with the express written consent given to the department by the adopted person or of a person for whom records are maintained as described in subdivision (c)(1)(A), twenty-one (21) years of age or older, or such person's legal representative, and, notwithstanding any other of the following provisions of this part to the contrary, the adopted person or a person for whom records are maintained as described in subdivision (c)(1)(A), such person's legal representative shall, under no circumstances, be required to take any affirmative action pursuant to the contact veto provisions of this part to protect the confidentiality of such identifying information; provided, that nothing herein shall be construed to prevent access to identifying information in the records of the adopted person as otherwise permitted or required pursuant to §§ 36-1-125, 36-1-126 and 36-1-138.

(C) If an adopted person or a person for whom records are maintained as described in subdivision (c)(1)(A) is deceased or is disabled as defined for purposes of appointment of conservator under title 34, the lineal descendants of such person may petition the court pursuant to § 36-1-138(c)(7), to be given access to the records of such person. A lineal descendant given access pursuant to this subdivision (c)(1)(C) is subject to all the requirements of the contact veto process.

(2) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, §§ 36-1-139 and §§ 36-1-141as such sections existed immediately prior to January 1, 1996, shall be revived and shall continue in full force and effect from May 15, 1996, and shall expire on July 1, 1996, to provide a method for contact with siblings and biological parents as provided therein until the effective date of the contact veto process.

(3) On July 1, 1996, the contact veto registry process and records access procedure established pursuant to subdivision (c)(1) and subsections (d)-(h) and other sections of this part shall become effective for access to records and contact by eligible persons under this part as set forth in subdivision (c)(1) and any other provisions of this part.

(4) Effective January 1, 1996, the basis for judicially-ordered opening of all records pursuant to this part shall be the provisions set forth in § 36-1-138 and any other relevant provisions of this part.

(d) No contact, whether by personal contact, correspondence, or otherwise, shall be made in any manner whatsoever by those requesting persons who are subject to the provisions of subsection (c), or any agent or other person acting in concert with those requesting persons, with any person or persons eligible to file a contact veto under the provisions of §§ 36-1-128 - 36-1-131, except as permitted pursuant to those sections.

(e) (1) Except in cases arising pursuant to subsection (b) or § 36-1-138, no access to identifying information in any adoption record, sealed record, sealed adoption record, post adoption record or adoption assistance record shall be granted:

(A) To any parent, pre-adoptive guardian, sibling, lineal descendant or lineal ancestor of a person under twenty-one (21) years of age; or

(B) At any time to any parent or pre-adoptive guardian, or to a sibling, lineal ancestor, or spouse or legal representative of the person whose rights were involuntarily terminated for cause in a termination of parental rights proceeding; or

(C) To any persons whom the sealed record, sealed adoption record or the post adoption record indicate were guilty of a crime of violence or neglect involving the person who was placed for adoption or who was the subject of the termination of parental rights by court action or by surrender or parental consent.

(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no identifying information from the sealed records, sealed adoption records or post adoption records shall be released without the written consent of the biological parent if such records indicate that, with respect to the adopted person, the biological parent was the victim of rape or incest. If a biological parent for whom records contain such information is deceased or if a conservator of the person and property of such person has been appointed under title 34, the lineal descendants of such person may petition the court pursuant to the same procedures established pursuant to § 36-1-138(c)(7) to be given access to identifying information of the biological parent. A lineal descendant given access pursuant to this subsection (e) is subject to all requirements of the contact veto process.

(f) The adoption record, sealed adoption record, sealed record, or post-adoption record requested by the persons stated in subsection (c) shall be made available only after completion by the requesting party of a sworn statement agreeing that such person or persons shall not contact or attempt to contact in any manner, by themselves or in concert with any other persons or entities, any of the persons eligible to file a contact veto pursuant to § 36-1-128, until the department has completed the search of the contact veto registry as provided in § 36-1-130 or pursuant to § 36-1-131, and that such person or persons understand the legal remedies for violation of the contact veto. The sworn statement shall contain language, which shall be acknowledged by the requesting party, concerning the existence of the contact veto procedure and the legal remedies for breach of the contact veto.

(g) (1) Access by any eligible person under any subsection of this section to any records held by the department, the court, the department of general services or health, or any licensed child-placing agency or licensed clinical social worker may only be had after verification of the identity of the requesting party and written authorization by the department is received by those information sources from the department.

(2) If the department does not have a sealed record, sealed adoption record, or post-adoption record, and if the person seeking information concerning the history of an adopted person has a copy of the order of adoption from a Tennessee court, or in cases where the adoption was handled by any agency described in subdivision (a)(3), a copy of an order of adoption from any other court and/or any other proof of the person's care, supervision, or placement for adoption by any agency described in subdivision (a)(3), and any other proof of the adoption of the person in Tennessee, any of which, in the discretion of the department is satisfactory to prove that the person is an eligible person, the department may issue a statement to that person permitting that person to obtain access to any records held by any other information source.

(h) (1) A request for access to an adoption record, sealed adoption record, sealed record, or a post-adoption record, pursuant to this section, shall be made in writing to the department.

(2) The writing shall include the following information:

(A) The name, date of birth, address, and telephone number of the person requesting the access;

(B) Information, including legal documents or affidavits, if available, that establish the person's legal relationship to any person under this section or that otherwise establishes the person's right to request access;

(C) Any other information that the department requires to establish the person's identity, to locate records involving the requesting parties or the persons with whom contact may be sought, and to establish the person's right to request access; and

(D) Identification of any person or persons or class of persons, if any, with whom the requesting party seeks contact; provided, that this provision shall not apply to persons seeking information pursuant to subsection (b).

(3) If the information in the written request does not establish the person's right to have access to the records, the department will search the sealed adoption and post-adoption records, including those of other alleged siblings, if available, for information that may establish the person's right to have such access.

Acts 1995, ch. 532, § 1; 1996, ch. 1054, §§ 80-83, 86, 129; 1996, ch. 1068, § 2; 1996, ch. 1079, § 69.

Compiler's Notes. Former § 36-1-127, concerning the binding effect of adoption, was transferred to § 36-1-122, effective January 1, 1996.

Acts 1995, ch. 532, referred to in (b)(1)(B), became effective July 1, 1995, for purposes of implementing the access to adoption records prior to March 16, 1951, and for persons affected by the adoptive placements through the Tennessee children's home society pursuant to (b), as enacted by § 1 of that act.

Acts 1996, ch. 1079, § 184 provided:

“Any provision of this act, or the application thereof, which is inconsistent with federal law, rule or regulation shall be deemed to be construed as being consistent with federal law, rule or regulation.”

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