What rights does a father have if he is on the Birth Certificate?

Last updated June 11th, 2021

A U.S. birth certificate is an extremely important document that is not only used as evidence of citizenship, but that is needed to obtain a U.S. passport, driver’s license, register at school or get married. The information on a birth certificate always includes the full name of the person and their time and date of birth. A baby’s birth certificate will often include the name of both parents, the mother and the father.

Generally couples who are married will include both their names on the birth certificate, with equal rights and responsibilities in regards to the child. For unmarried couples, it might be different. However, if the parents of the child are not married, some questions may arise. For instance, what rights does the father have if they are on the birth certificate? How long does the father have to sign a birth certificate? Must the father on the certificate be the biological father?

What happens when the father signs the birth certificate?

When the father of the child signs the birth certificate, and he’s not married to the mother, he is acknowledging that he is the biological and legal father of the child. When he signs the certificate, he is agreeing to the paternity of the child and therefore accepts legal responsibility of said child. Legally, this means that as the biological father he is liable for the financial support of the child. However, it does not mean that as the father, he has legal rights to access or time-sharing responsibilities with the child’s mother.

If the unwed father wishes to have legal parental responsibilities, such as access and time-sharing, he has to request and obtain a court order that defines his rights to the child.

Petition to Establish Paternity

When a father wishes to have legal parental responsibilities he must file a Petition to Establish Paternity with the court. Until he is granted access and rights to the child, the mother will hold full control of the child and all the decisions that affect the child.

We must note that paternity must be established before the unwed father’s name can be added to the birth certificate. There are two ways states can establish paternity legally:

  • Voluntary acknowledgment by the parent, or
  • State-established legal processes, which often include genetic testing

In cases when the unwed mother and father are both in agreement regarding the responsibilities and rights the father has to the newborn child, the voluntary acknowledgment by the parent (VAP) is the most common option. The VAP is a legal document that the hospital can provide the parents at the time of the child’s birth. It is also possible to get the VAP completed, signed, witnessed and filed at any time for any child.

The VAP does not grant the father full rights to parental responsibilities. The VAP serves as the ability for the father to be named on the birth certificate. After paternity has been established, and the father’s name is on the birth certificate, he has the right to file an action to seek scheduled time with the child and participate in parental responsibilities with the mother of the child.

What happens if the father doesn't sign the birth certificate?

There are several different reasons why the father of a child might not sign the birth certificate. Perhaps, the father does not want to have the legal responsibilities that come with signing the birth certificate. Maybe the father is not aware, or he cannot be located, or he passed away, or the mother has decided she does not want the father’s name on the certificate. Regardless of the reason, it is essential to understand the implications of leaving the father’s name off the birth certificate and how this decision will affect the child.

Having an unwed father’s name on the certificate recognizes his legal relationship with the child and obligates him to pay financial support of the child. If the mother is concerned about the father’s access to the child, a court can help determine the father’s rights and how much he should be involved in their life based upon the best interests of the child.

Not having the father’s name on the certificate mainly affects U.S. citizens when they are minors, but it can also affect their ability to claim insurance, inheritance, and death benefits.

As a U.S. national, you need the father’s name on your certificate to:

  • Prove your identity - any child under 18 needs any parent listed on the birth certificate present to sign documents to obtain a passport, attend school, and get a birth certificate. If the father is not on the birth certificate, he doesn’t have to be there
  • Claim child support
  • Claim death benefits
  • Receive insurance coverage

The father can assert his parental rights at any time. If your father has passed away and you would like to claim death benefits, you can no longer update your birth record.

Sometimes parents are unsure about whether to change the birth certificate to include the father’s name on the certificate, or the father might not be ready to do so. In cases like this, it is advised to seek advice from a family attorney.

Read more: What information is on a birth certificate?