Marriage is not a prerequisite for parenthood. A considerable number of children in the United States are born to unmarried parents. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development notes that, in 2009, almost 40 percent of all children born in the U.S. were born to unmarried parents. If you're not married to your newborn's dad, this can affect some of the information on the child's birth certificate.
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Birth Certificate Information
The federal government does not require all states to use the same birth certificate form. Because of this, the information that appears on a child's birth certificate may vary slightly from state to state. In general, however, a newborn's birth certificate reflects the date, time and location of birth; and his name, race and parents' names and nationalities. The majority of the information present on a newborn's birth certificate, such as when the child was born, is the same regardless of whether the child's parents were married or unmarried at the time of his birth.
When a married couple have a child, the mother's husband is presumed to be the father of the child until proven otherwise. Thus, as a matter of course, the hospital lists his name on the birth certificate as the father. A man who is not married to the child's mother can typically have his name listed on the child's birth certificate if he establishes paternity. One way to do this is by signing a document acknowledging he is the child's biological father. Such a document, however, is not legally binding without the signature of both parents. If the alleged father refuses to sign the document, the mother can force him to establish paternity by seeking a court order requiring he submit to a DNA test. If the alleged father does not establish paternity to his child, the child's birth certificate will typically list his mother's name but not his father's.
Unmarried couples typically have two different last names. The couple must decide what last name the child will have. Unmarried couples aren't required to give their child a specific surname upon birth. The child may carry the mother's surname, father's surname or a hyphenated surname. The name the couple chooses then appears on the newborn's birth certificate. An alleged father's denial of paternity does not ensure the child will not carry his last name. State laws vary regarding a mother's right to name her child. In Connecticut, for example, an unmarried woman has the right to give her child any name she wishes – whether the alleged father agrees to the surname or not. In Florida, however, both parents must agree to the child's surname before the hospital will enter the name on the birth certificate. If both parents cannot agree, a court will determine the appropriate surname.
Birth Certificate Changes
If your newborn's birth certificate contains errors, or if you need to add information such as the father's name to the record, you can request a birth certificate amendment from from the department that handles vital records in your state. State regulations vary regarding what information can be changed. California, for example, does not allow parents to change any part of their child's name on his birth certificate without a court order. Should you need to correct an error or add information, you must generally pay the required fee, provide proof of parentage and fill out a birth certificate amendment form.
References & Resources
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: Share of Births Out of Wedlock and Teenage Births (p.1)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Birth Edit Specifications For the 2003 Revision of the U.S. Standard Certificate of Birth (p.1)
- Louisiana Department of Chlidren and Family Services: Child Support Frequently Asked Questions
- Washington State Legislature: Birth Certificates — Filing — Establishing paternity — Surname of child.
- California Department of Public Health: Affidavit to Amend a Birth Record (p. 2)
- Arizona Department of Health Services: Affidavit to Correct or Amend a Birth Certificate
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Where to Write for Vital Records
- FindLaw: Protection for Unmarried Parents