The Legal Process of Obtaining Public Birth Records Explained

New York law prohibits releasing confidential birth information except to the person named on the certificate, their immediate family members, or a lawful representative. Learn more about these restrictions.

Although New York made continual attempts to encourage compliance with vital record-keeping laws beginning in 1880, full compliance did not occur until 1914. However, indexes of these records exist that can be accessed.

Freedom of Information Law (FOIL)

The Freedom of Information Law (Public Officers Law SS87 et. seq) provides citizens the right to access records from governmental agencies. Each agency handles requests individually, so you should contact the particular entity for more information on how to request documents from them. The Department of State also has a FOIL webpage(link is external) that explains the process and answers Frequently Asked Questions.

FOIL applies to federal, state, and local governments. It allows citizens to see any information the government has in their hands unless it falls under one of nine exemptions or three exclusions. Congress created these provisions to protect privileged information from being released, including information related to ongoing criminal investigations and national security issues.

To request information from a state agency under FOIL, you must provide the full name of the person requesting the record, their address and phone number, and any other information to help identify them. A written request must be submitted to the agency that holds the record. You can also make a request electronically by filling out a form online.

The act requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 days. However, many agencies do not comply with this requirement for various reasons. In some cases, screening requests for sensitive or classified information can be arduous, and congressional funding for FOIA staff is often far less than needed to hire sufficient employees.

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a law that limits the maximum time frame in which legal proceedings can be started based on a particular event. This type of law may vary by jurisdiction and variety of legal action but is generally found in criminal and civil laws.

Statutes of limitations are a common element of many countries’ laws and have a long history, being either specifically written into specific legislation or as a part of general common law. These rules are designed to protect defendants from unfair prosecution or other legal action after the alleged crime has passed a specific window, when witnesses may have died, evidence might have been lost, or memories can fade.

The length of time specified by a statute of limitations varies widely by country and depends on the type of action. For example, civil actions such as a lawsuit over a breach of contract typically have a six-year statute of limitations, while those related to crimes like murder might only have 20 years.

Sometimes, a statute of limitations can be extended or “tolled” by exceptional circumstances. However, this must be done regularly and approved by the judge to be valid. For this reason, it is essential for plaintiffs with a valid claim to pursue it within the statutory period.

Many states have set criteria for when a birth certificate becomes public and which individuals may access the document. Some of the requirements in the birth certificate office are that the requester must be an authorized person named in the record, a relative or lawful representative of the registrant or their immediate family member, a parent of the registrant or their immediate family members, an adoptive parent or their adoptive child, or a legal guardian of a minor. In addition, some states have made their records available to the general public if they meet certain requirements, such as being over a specific age or needing proof of identity.

A certified copy of a birth certificate is an official state document that contains essential information such as name, date of birth, and place of birth. The paper is required for various purposes such as verification of a person’s age (for school admission) and identity, acquisition of passports, social security cards, establishing citizenship, provision of insurance coverage, and more.

It is also possible to change information recorded on a birth certificate. Still, the process is lengthy and requires submitting evidence that meets state standards to show what should have been entered instead (such as a census transcript). If an individual doesn’t have a valid birth certificate, they must submit one or more documents, such as a driver’s license or a marriage or death certificate.


The State Bureau of Vital Records maintains birth records for the state, issues certified copies of filed birth certificates, and processes changes to the original form caused by adoption. They also prepare data files for public health surveillance, research, and state and federal agency reporting.

Generally, the cost for a copy of a birth certificate is $10 and includes one certified copy of the certificate. There is an additional charge for each extra accredited copy requested. Those making requests in person can pay by cash, money order, MasterCard (r), or Visa(r). A wallet-sized photo birth certificate is available for an additional $25.

If you request for yourself, your spouse, or a child over 18, you must bring government-issued photo identification with a signature and expiration date. A fee waiver is available for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, their widows or husband if they have not remarried, and their children.

Unless otherwise specified by law, New York birth records are confidential. They may only be released to the individual listed on the document once they turn 18, their immediate family member, or their legal representative. Other individuals must provide a signed and notarized statement or letter of authorization. This form must be completed and signed in front of a notary public.

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