Help my wife prove her identity to the German Consulate
July 23, 2012 9:52 AM   Subscribe

My wife, a card-carrying permanent resident alien living in the U.S., allowed her German passport to expire and is seeking a renewal through the German Consulate in New York City. She has her documentation mostly in order, including German birth certificate, but needs to show proof of a name change that took place during an adoption in Iowa when she was four years old. Difficulty: Iowa adoption records are sealed. Looking for advice on how to best request a copy of the documentation, or provide a suitable alternative. Comprehensive details inside.

My wife was born in Germany and came to the U.S. legally as an infant with her mother. Her German birth certificate correctly lists the identities of her biological mother (who lives in Iowa) and biological father (who remains in Germany, as far as we know). When she was four years old -- circa 1969 or 1970 -- she was adopted by her mother's husband in the state of Iowa, and her last name was changed to match the new family name. The identity of her biological parents is not in question, nor is it a secret to anyone.

Upon visiting the German Consulate, she was told that she would need to provide her adoption paperwork to show evidence of her name change before a new passport would be issued. (Her name did not change when we were married, in part because we were sorting out an issue with the then-INS involving a stolen green card and did not want to complicate the process of replacement.) Unfortunately for her, we've moved -- twice! -- since she received her previous German passport, and her only copy of the adoption paperwork went missing. We've been in contact with the appropriate county clerk in Iowa, where all adoption records are sealed. We've been instructed to write a letter to the presiding judge at the courthouse to request the opening of the adoption file. We've asked if proof of the name change could be provided separately, but apparently it is part and parcel of the adoption file.

So we're going to write the presiding judge immediately and explain a) why my wife needs the document and b) that no one's identity is being protected by keeping the record sealed. As we've been warned that it's difficult to get these records unsealed, I'd appreciate some advice on what should go into this letter or insight on what our chances are. Also, if we can not get official documentation proving the name change, what might our options be? How else does one prove a name change? (She's been using her current name for the last 40 years or so.) Might we change her name to match mine (based on marriage) and leapfrog her previous name entirely for the purposes of this passport and moving forward?
posted by Joey Bagels to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Since there's a lot riding on that letter to the judge, it's probably worth it to hire a relevant local lawyer to help you write it.

IANAL, but it seems to me like it couldn't hurt to include letters from her mother and adopted father stating they don't have any kind of privacy interest in keeping the record sealed.
posted by zjacreman at 10:32 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Whatever you do, DON'T give her another name change now, for the same reason you didn't when you got married. At best it will confuse the consulate officials, while at worse it will look like you are trying to do an end-run (which you are) for nefarious purposes (which you're not). Write the judge, explaining it just as you did here. You have a totally valid reason for wanting to unseal the records, and with luck you'll get exactly what you need in short order. Hold off on more complicated schemes until you've pursued this one.
posted by ubiquity at 10:34 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is probably something worth hiring an attorney in Iowa to help sort out. Someone in the county that does family law will likely be able to help you. I'd shop around until I found someone who was willing to do this for a flat fee.
posted by valkyryn at 11:20 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hairy immigration issue = lawyer.

Hairy immigration issue PLUS hairy adoption issue? Double.

According to Chapter 600, Adoption, in the Code of Iowa, adult adoptees may receive medical and developmental family history provided the names of birth parents are not released. They may also petition the court to open their sealed record and reveal information for "good cause".

I don't see why the part proving the adoption took place and/or her name/identity would violate the chapter, but even if the records need to be unsealed to do so, renewing a passport for a permanent resident has to be at least reasonably close to "good cause".
posted by dhartung at 12:16 PM on July 23, 2012

I have three comments.

1. Try the German consulate again. Her expired passport is proof that her name is what the passport says is her name. She should not have to prove -- again -- that she changed her name when she was four, because the passport embodies that evidence. She probably got someone unfamiliar with the rules, and should try the consulate again and see if she can find someone else to give her a better answer.

If that fails try the German embassy in D.C.

2. Assuming that the Germans really are that crazy (and I seriously doubt that they are), then the letter to the judge in Iowa should be in the form of an affidavit, that is, it should be a sworn letter countersigned by a notary public.

She should include affidavits from both adoptive parents (and the biological father, if available) attesting to the fact that no one's identity is being revealed, and they do not oppose opening the records.

But really, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that none of this is necessary.

3. If she plans to stay in the U.S., she should also get U.S. citizenship. I am an immigration attorney, and I cannot tell you how important this is. So many of my clients would save multiple thousands of dollars and years of heartache and pain by naturalizing. This will be straightforward for her, and will be of incredible value to her and to you.
posted by Capri at 6:43 PM on July 23, 2012

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