Apply to the Central Register
The Central Register provides a search and outreach service for people linked through donor conception. An application fee applies. Donors, donor-conceived adults, parents, or descendants of donor-conceived people can apply for information (either identifying or non-identifying). If records and contact details can be found, the other party will be contacted by VARTA. In some cases, contact preferences affect what information is released and the type of contact. You should also know that:
- Donors can apply for information about their donor offspring.
- Donor-conceived people and their descendants are entitled to receive identifying information (name, date of birth, donor code) of the donor. They can apply when they are 18 years old, or younger if a VARTA counsellor considers they are sufficiently mature. Donor-conceived people can also apply for non-identifying information about their donor siblings.
- Parents can apply at any time after the birth of their child for information about their child’s donor. Parents can also apply for non-identifying information about their child’s donor siblings.
You, as the person applying are the applicant. The person you are trying to connect with is the subject of the application.
1. Apply to the Central Register
To apply to the Central Register you will need to:
- Complete the Central Register application form
- Attach the required certified proof of identity documentation
- Pay the application fee of $77.86 for each information category (identifying and non-identifying)
- Submit your form.
The application fee may be waived if you:
- Provide a statement detailing financial hardship
- Have previously applied for information on the Central Register and paid a fee for the application
- You are a donor sibling of an applicant who applied for information on the Central Register and paid a fee for the application.
2. Attend an information and support session
Applicants are required to attend a free information and support session. Appointments for the session are made after you have submitted a Central Register application. The sessions are preferably held in person during office hours at VARTA’s offices, or can be held remotely (via phone, Skype or Zoom). The sessions take about an hour. More details will be provided when you make the appointment.
This session is not an assessment. However, if a person is younger than 18 years a VARTA counsellor is required to assess the maturity of the applicant.
During this session you will discuss:
- your motivations for making the application and what you hope to achieve
- the implications of making an application for you, the subject of your application and close family and friends
- the implications of making contact
- the importance of establishing realistic boundaries
- the emotions you may experience
- potential difficulties in the search process (e.g. if records are incomplete, the subject cannot be located)
- your statement of reasons. Writing your Statement of reasons form
3. Complete your statement of reasons form
A statement of reasons is a short document explaining your motivations and what you would like to happen (both short and long term) as a result of the application. Your completed statement of reasons is forwarded to the contacted party and can help them understand why you are seeking information and/or contact. If mutual understanding is established, it may lead to further correspondence through letters or email in the future.
Your counsellor will guide you through writing your statement of reasons in the information and support session. It can be useful to think about a few ideas prior to the session. You can find a guide to writing your statement of reasons here. You can complete the statement of reasons during a session or take it home to complete.
4. VARTA search
Once a completed application has been received, VARTA will search for the donor record (if available) and the current address for the subject of the application. VARTA may need to use a search agency to assist with locating the other party. If no record and/or current contact details are available, VARTA will advise you as the applicant.
The following minimum searches will be conducted where information is accessible:
- consultation with the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and request for a search of any relevant registers including marriage, birth, death and change of names
- inspection of the current non-public Victorian electoral roll*
- inspection of the current public Australian electoral roll, if the person is not identified on current non-public Victorian electoral roll
- search of the White Pages directory
- basic internet search
- search of publicly available information on prominent social media sites.
*VARTA can obtain information from the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to help find and contact the subject of an application in accordance with section 34 of the Electoral Act 2002. The date of birth of Victorian electors (excluding silent electors) is provided to confirm a person’s identity. The postal address is provided so that VARTA can contact that person to inform them that their information will be given to the applicant, explain their legal rights regarding a contact preference and to offer them support from a VARTA counsellor. Case by case information is only provided under strict conditions defined in VARTA’s legal agreement with the VEC. Information will only be used for the purpose of identifying and contacting the subject of an application; and will not be given to any third party. VARTA recognises that it is a serious offence to use enrolment information in any way, except for the specified permitted purpose.
More complex searches may include the following searches of:
- online death indexes
- historical electoral rolls and other records held by the authorised search agency
- probate/wills/letters of administration held at the Public Records Office of Victoria
- missing persons registers
- immigration files, military registers and any other national archives
- Land Titles searches.
5. VARTA outreach
VARTA will write to the subject of your application and include your Statement of reasons form. The subject of the application and their close family can also access free VARTA support services.
While you may have been considering this matter for some time, the person contacted is likely to need to think through their current circumstances and implications for themselves and their family. Time is often needed to process the information. Being contacted because of an application may be quite unexpected. A donor may not know there have been any people born as a result of their donation or about changes to legislation. Conversely, a donor-conceived person may not be aware that their parents had donor conception treatment.
If the donor cannot be notified, located, or has died and the donor’s identifying information is available, the information will be provided to the donor-conceived applicant within four months of VARTA attempting to notify the donor, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Information will then be released to the applicant on the condition that if the donor-conceived person is able to locate the donor, they will share that information with VARTA.
6. Response to an application and lodging contact preferences
The next step is for the subject of your application to respond to VARTA. Where applicable, they can decide whether to consent to the release of information, or to lodge a contact preference. Victorian laws mean:
- Pre-1998 donors can choose if or how they wish to have contact. Donors need to consent before identifying information is released to parents.
- Donor-conceived people and parents of children younger than 18 years can decide whether to give consent to release identifying information. Donor-conceived people can also specify if they want to have contact or not.
- If the donor has children younger than 18 years, they can also express wishes in relation to contact with their children.
A copy of any contact preference will be provided to you as the applicant and will last for a period of five years. This contact preference may be amended or withdrawn at any time during that five year period (unless there has already been contact between the parties). VARTA has responsibility to communicate with the subject of an application who has lodged a contact preference before the five years expires. They will be given the option of extending it.
The contact preference may include:
- being contacted in a specified way by the applicant such as via email, phone or letter
- using the services of VARTA as a third party to exchange information
- not being contacted by the applicant. If ‘no contact’ is specified, contact details will not be provided to the applicant.
7. Outcomes notification
VARTA will inform you as the applicant of the subject’s decision.
If a contact preference has been lodged, it creates legal obligations for the applicant. If the subject of an application has lodged a contact preference, you will need to sign a consent form stating that you will abide by this.
8. Information exchange
Once the appropriate contact preferences and consent for information release are in place, information exchange can start. This can include:
- providing updated, non-identifying information (e.g. medical, hobbies, personality)
- corresponding via the VARTA letterbox service or by a non-identifying email address
- using the VARTA donor linking intermediary support service to begin contact and, perhaps, to meet.
Be aware that there can be gaps in communication. The other person might take a while to reply. While you may have been thinking about contact for a long time, they may need time to digest the issue or have other pressing considerations in their lives. They may also be having difficulty putting their thoughts into words to reply. These can be difficult letters to write.
When and if both parties feel comfortable, a meeting can occur. It is important to respect everyone’s preferences regarding contact. Being sensitive to the other person - particularly in the early stages - is more likely to promote a better long-term outcome. Rather than rushing things, getting to know one another over time enables people to adjust and understand the other person's situation and perspective.
If you have been corresponding for a while and no longer feel like strangers, you might like to progress to exchange phone numbers. If this goes well you may want to meet. It is recommended that your first meeting should be on neutral ground - such as a café or park. The first meeting is usually exciting and nerve wracking. Try to relax and be yourself. Remember the other person will be feeling nervous too. VARTA staff are there to support you throughout and beyond.
Contact is more likely to be positive if everyone:
- is well prepared
- takes their time and gets to know each other gradually
- has realistic expectations
- is open minded
- communicates honestly about their preferences
- respects other people’s points of view and their family situation
- is clear about boundaries
- does not feel pressured
- has support.
Manage your expectations
It is difficult to know how the other person will respond. Some people are quite private and reserved; others want to meet their genetic relatives; and some have not given it much thought. Until you have had contact with the other person you cannot know which category they fall into. Think about your best-case scenario and your worst-case scenario and prepare for both.
Navigating first contact
It is likely you are both feeling excited yet vulnerable at the early stages of getting to know one another. Maintaining your boundaries is always wise but it is important to be open to the degree to which you feel comfortable. Do not get too caught up in the moment - take things slowly and carefully. If you are inclined, humour can be a good tool to ease the intensity of a situation, including sharing a laugh about this strange situation in which you find both yourselves.
What happens next depends on what each person wants. The following scenarios are quite common:
- honeymoon phase initially, with a flurry of communication
- gaps in communication
- clunky communication where you think you may have upset the other person
- one meeting only
- ongoing exchange of letters
- some form of friendship
- slow development of a relationship over years
- feeling uncertain about where you fit in - who are we to each other?
- confusion about how to introduce the person to others
- concerns from partners, extended family.
Contact between people varies enormously and there is no etiquette guide about how best to approach this. Options for donor linking include:
- facilitated email exchange
- setting up a non-identifying email address
- a facilitated meeting supported by the VARTA counsellor
- exchanging contact details (e.g. telephone, address).