Accessing adoption files and information on the biological family

Adopted children may be interested in discovering more about their origins as an important part of their identity. Several countries allow children to access their adoption files and receive information about their biological families and the circumstances of their adoption.

This right does not always include identifying pieces of information about their biological parents (such as their identity and address).

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Key aspects

  • In fourteen Member States, persons have access to their adoption file and to certain information regarding their biological families at 18 years (Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom).
  • Only Italy requests a higher age, namely 25 years.
  • In Belgium, Finland and Czechia, children aged 12 or over may exercise such a right; in Austria and Hungary, this is possible from the age of 14 years. In Bulgaria, Germany and the Netherlands (as well as in Scotland) the threshold is set at 16 years. In the Netherlands, in the case of intercountry adoption, children may obtain their adoption file from the age of 12 years.
  • In France and Slovakia, the possibility to access files depends on the child’s maturity.
  • Ireland and Slovenia do not grant the right to access adoption files and information relating to one’s biological family. In Ireland, there is a register for facilitating contact between adopted people and their biological families. Participation is voluntary and contact is only initiated if all people involved register. In Slovenia, new rules will apply from 15 April 2019. Access to data on biological families will only be possible if the relevant persons consent. If the child wants to obtain such data, the biological parents must therefore consent. Similarly, if the biological parents ask for information, the child has to consent.
  • Certain states allow children to access this information at a lower age, provided they have the consent of their parents (for instance in Denmark, Estonia, Germany and Portugal), for important reasons (for instance in Italy and Lithuania) or subject to an individual assessment of the child’s maturity (in Belgium and Sweden).
  • Some countries provide for professional assistance for children prior to or during the consultation of the adoption file. This is the case, for instance, for the French-speaking community in Belgium, where such an assistance is compulsory for all persons under 18 years, and in Finland, where the child is free to accept it or not.
  • In Hungary and Estonia, there are limits on the release of information regarding the identity of biological families. These apply if biological parents or siblings could not be asked or did not consent to their identity being disclosed, or if such information is not in the child’s best interests.
  • In Slovakia, adoptive parents – if they so choose – may provide the child with information about the biological family, if this is in the child’s best interest.
  • In Czechia, children have the right to access files at the Registry Office from the age of 12 years, and those kept by the court at 18. In the case of the mother having requested confidentiality at birth (so called “secret birth” or “anonymous” or “confidential” birth), the disclosure of her identity is allowed only on the basis of a court’s decision, regardless of the child’s age.

Comparison with the age requirements to consent to one’s adoption

  • In six Member States, the age to access one's adoption file and the age to consent to one’s adoption are the same (in Belgium, Finland and Czechia at 12 years, in Austria and Hungary at 14 years and in the United Kingdom at 18 for Scotland).
  • In Cyprus, the age to access adoption files is set at 18 years, while consent to adoption depends on the child’s maturity.
  • The contrary applies in France where access is granted depending on the child’s maturity, while consent to adoption is set at 13 years.
  • In Slovakia, both age thresholds depend on the child’s maturity.
  • In Ireland and Slovenia, no access is granted, while individuals can consent from 18 years (Ireland) or depending on maturity (Slovenia).
  • In the other countries, the minimum age to access adoption files is higher.