Having the Father's Name on the Birth Certificate

Pros and cons of listing the father on the birth certificate

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

Whether or not to list the father's name on their baby's birth certificate is a question moms, particularly single moms, need to consider. Sometimes, the answer is obvious, but it's not always a simple decision.

Overview

For married parents, the husband is automatically assumed to be the father of the child. However, unwed mothers are asked in the hospital—but not required—to provide the name of the birth father. Just as the mom does not need to put down a name, the father also does not need to acknowledge paternity, unless required to do so by a court order.

If the father is at the hospital for the birth and both parents want the father on the form, they will have the opportunity to fill out paperwork confirming the identity of the father. In this case, both parents need to sign forms establishing paternity.

Alternatively, a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity (AOP) affidavit or a court-certified judgment establishing paternity can be submitted either at the hospital or later on to add a father to the birth certificate. This step can be initiated by the mother or father. Genetic testing can be done if necessary to confirm paternity.

Considerations for Single Parents

For single moms, there is more to weigh than simply whether or not to put down the name of the father on the child's birth certificate. The ramifications of this decision can have both positives and negatives for the child and the mother.

Possible benefits include potential entitlements in both the financial and emotional realms. However, there can be some drawbacks or perceived negatives, depending on your circumstances and relationship with the other parent.

Remember that the father being on the birth certificate or not doesn't guarantee or limit paternal custody rights. The father can fight for custody rights through the courts (regardless of what the birth certificate says) at any time. Likewise, financial support can be claimed on behalf of the child even if the father is not on the form.

In the case of unmarried parents, in order to put the father on the birth certificate, the father will need to fill out and sign a voluntary AOP form. If the father is at the birth, the form and witnesses will most likely be provided at the hospital.

If the father is unknown, uncertain, reluctant, or absent, they can be added at a later time at your state's department of vital records. Fees, rules, documentation, and forms will vary from state to state.

Let's explore the factors you may want to think about before listing the father's name on your baby's birth certificate.

Potential Pros

Below are some of the biggest potential benefits of listing the name of your child's father on their birth certificate. In addition to weighing your personal circumstances and preferences, you'll likely want to consider the rights and wishes of the father and what is best for your child.

Official Relationship

If you have a cooperative relationship with the father, putting them on the form is often the obvious choice. When the relationship is contentious or non-existent, this decision gets murkier.

Choosing to list your child's father on their birth certificate forever legally binds your child to their biological father. This official acknowledgment will likely be meaningful to both father and child. If you intend (or hope) the father will be involved in your child's life, putting them down as the father usually makes sense. (Although, you will need the father to sign an AOP or court judgment to make it official.)

Consider that most children want to know who both their biological parents are.

Listing the father on the birth certificate, whether they are actively involved in parenting or not, gives both child and father confirmation of this relationship.

Additionally, this documentation also brings legal entitlement. The father may be required to care for the child, physically and/or financially—and they may also assert custody and/or visitation rights.

Child Support

Once a father is listed on the birth certificate, they become legally responsible for the child. If you intend to request child support from the father, getting them on the birth certificate is an important first step, as it establishes them as the father.

Health Insurance Coverage

Additionally, adding the father on a child's birth certificate can facilitate enrolling the child on the father's health insurance plan if that is your intent.

If you want your child to get health insurance through their biological father, having the father on the birth certificate can serve as documentation that the child is the father's, paving the way for getting coverage authorized.

Death Benefits

Another reason to list the father on the birth certificate is that this documentation will allow your child to receive death benefits, such as Social Security or a continuation of child support, in the event of the father's death. If the father is not on the child's birth certificate, paternity would need to be proved in another way.

Potential Cons

While there are significant benefits to listing a child's father on their birth certificate, there are some (potentially huge) drawbacks, particularly if your relationship with the child's father is contentious or unhealthy. Putting them on this official form links them to your child and there are many legitimate reasons that this may not be in your child's or your own best interests.

Custody Rights

Once a father is one the birth certificate, you are officially declaring them to be the child's father. This gives the father the ability to assert parental rights, including custody and visitation rights, at any time. (Of course, not being on the birth certificate does nothing to prevent the father, assuming they know they are the father, from requesting custody rights.)

If you don't want the father to be involved in the child's life, for whatever reason, you may decide that it's best not to put them on the birth certificate.

Parental Decisions

Another consideration to weigh is the impact naming your child's father on their birth certificate may have on your ability to make parental decisions. Key choices, such as those relating to health care treatments, moving to a new city or state, and registering the child for school or activities, may become challenging as you might need to get the other parent's agreement and signature.

Sometimes, you may even need a court order to make basic choices if the other parent cannot be located or does not agree with your decisions.

Travel Limitations

Taking children out of the country, particularly if they do not have the same last name as you do, becomes another hurdle. You may be required to provide a certified letter at border crossings that gives you permission from the father to travel with your child. If there is no father listed on the birth certificate, you can bring that document with you, which would establish you as sole guardian for travel purposes.

Additionally, if the father is on the birth certificate, the mother can only get a passport issued for the child if both parents are present at the passport office or if the mother has a notarized letter from the father giving their permission.

Infidelity

In other circumstances, you may not want to list the father due to infidelity (yours or the father's) and the potential negative fallout that putting them on the form might create. You'll want to carefully weigh all the potential benefits and drawbacks as well as the wishes and rights of all the stakeholders as you make your decision.

How to Add a Father's Name

There are two ways to add a father's name to the birth certificate. The simplest circumstance is adding the name when the form is initially created, which is usually done before leaving the hospital. In this case, all the mother needs to do is to include the father's name on the form (and, in the case of unmarried parenting, the father also needs to complete the AOP).

The second scenario is when the father was not on the original birth certificate and is added after it was issued. When this happens, paperwork (and usually a fee) is required to make the change and have the form reissued. This step is done via your local vital records office.

Required Documents

Hospitals generally require the following information to add a father to a single mother's child's birth certificate:

  • Acknowledgment of paternity form signed by both the father and mother
  • The signing of the AOP must also be witnessed and signed by two uninterested parties

Adding a Father's Name Later

Although it is preferable for parents to add a father's name to the child's birth certificate at the time of birth, it is possible to add the father's name to a child's birth certificate after the birth certificate is issued. Although the process varies by state, to amend the child's birth certificate after it's issued, a parent would need to do the following:

  • Submit a copy of the original birth certificate to the Department of Vital Records in your state.
  • Pay the applicable fee.
  • Ask the father to sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity, which will need to be notarized and submitted. (If the father refuses to sign an AOP form, you can request a court judgment to establish paternity.)

A new birth certificate with the child's name will then be sent to the parents, though it may take a month or more to receive it.

A Word From Verywell

There are many scenarios in which mothers will find themselves weighing whether or not to add the father's name to a child's birth certificate. Of many variables to consider, perhaps the most significant is the impact this decision may have on your child's (and your own) relationship with their father going forward, potentially for the rest of your lives.

In the end, it's a personal choice, with the well-being of your child at its center. For expert guidance tailored to your unique circumstances, speak with a qualified attorney in your state.

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Article Sources
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  1. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. What Are the Pros and Cons of Establishing Paternity?. 2020.

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