In November of 2001, two months after I was reunited with my biological family, the Superior Court of California, Contra Costa County (where I was born), informed me that I needed to file a court petition in order to obtain a copy of my birth certificate. That document is sealed because I was adopted when I was 2 years old.

I obtained the necessary paperwork, filled it out and filed with along with the requite fee.

What, Exactly, is Good and Compelling Cause?

Nine months later, I received a letter from the judge of that court. Denied. My petition did not present “good and compelling cause” to unseal my birth certificate. Okay, I’ll amend my petition and try again, I thought.

But, what, exactly, constitutes “good and compelling cause?” How should I amend my petition? What does the court want to see? The California Department of Social Services’ website mentions it in its brief instruction on how to obtain a sealed original birth certificate. But, it doesn’t define it. I inquired directly to the court by phone. Surely that’s a good course of action, right? But, no one at the court could tell me what would satisfy the “good and compelling cause” requirement.

My father and step-mother
My mother, Patty (center) with my grandmother Marolyn (left) and great-grandmother, Louise (right.)

“Good and compelling cause” has no standard definition. Even so, it is a requirement in an original birth certificate certificate petition. Attempting to hit the “good and compelling cause” target is shot in the dark. Its success is based solely on the position of the judge that is assigned to the case.

The stance taken by those who wish to keep original birth certificates out of the hands of adoptees is that doing so protects the privacy of the natural families. In my case, there was no privacy left to protect. Yet, my birth certificate remains sealed from me.

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