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Should I name the father on the birth certificate?

Know the implications of this decision before you give birth.

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A young single mom holds her newborn baby.

Before your baby is born, decide whether to name a father on the birth certificate.

Photo © Tom Grill / Getty Images

Question: I'm due to give birth in about eight weeks, and I'm not sure whether I should name the father on the birth certificate when the baby is born. Won't that make it easier for him to get custody?

There's a lot of confusion surrounding the issue of single mothers, fathers, and birth certificates. First, you should know that legally including the father's name on a state-issued birth certificate requires his participation. So if he happens to be unavailable — because you don't know who he is or cannot locate him — it's a non-issue. Even if you listed him on the application, it wouldn't make it on to the actual birth certificate without his signature on a legal Acknowledgement of Paternity form.

Keep in mind, too, that if your baby's father is involved, then naming him on the birth certificate doesn't necessarily benefit him, but it could benefit your child. For example, let's say that the father died while your child was still a minor. If you legally acknowledge paternity by including the father on your child's birth certificate, then your child will be eligible to receive Social Security death benefits.

Plus, the idea that including him on the birth certificate makes it easier for him to get custody is a misconception. In reality, your baby's father can formally request custody or visitation at any time — whether he's on the birth certificate or not. All he has to do is file a request with your local family court. If he were not already on the birth certificate, then the court's response would include paternity testing, but it wouldn't make the judge more or less likely to grant him custody or visitation.

In addition, if you currently receive state or federal assistance, in the form of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, WIC, Section 8 housing, or any other form of assistance — or if you apply for benefits in the future — the government will require you to name your child's father so that they can attempt to recover child support payments from him.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to include your baby's father on the birth certificate is an intensely personal one. My advice is to consider the conversations you've had with your baby's father thus far about his intentions to be involved after the baby is born. If he acknowledges that the baby is his, and he's going to be an active part of the child's life, then I'd recommend going through the process of formally acknowledging paternity when you complete the initial birth certificate application.

More Birth Certificate Questions

  • What does the father need to do to be included on the birth certificate?
    You would both have to sign an affidavit legally acknowledging him as the birth father. The hospital can provide you with this paperwork after the birth.

  • Does the father have to be present at the birth in order to be listed on the birth certificate?
    No. If he happens to be there, he can fill out the paperwork in person. If not, he can complete the affidavit later.

  • What if he's reluctant to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity?
    Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Formally acknowledging paternity is a huge commitment and opens the door to him being responsible for the child financially, as well. If he's reluctant, you could request paternity testing after your baby is born. If you decide to file for child support, the state will conduct paternity testing for you.

  • Will my baby automatically be given her father's last name if I include him on the birth certificate?
    No, you can choose to give your baby your last name, the father's last name, or a hyphenated combination of both.

  • Can I add the father's name to the birth certificate later?
    Yes. If you don't include him on the birth certificate at the time of your baby's birth, you can later have the birth certificate amended.

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