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Kevin O'Flaherty

For unwed mothers, if the father's name is not on the birth certificate, he has no legal relationship to the child and no legal rights to the child. Unwed mother's can refuse the child's father's name be added to the birth certificate, but this has legal ramifications that should not be ignored.

In this post, we discuss what a father can do if he is not on the birth certificate, as well as how not having the father on the birth certificate affects the child. In a previous article, we discussed what rights a father has if he is listed on the birth certificate of a minor child.   

When a married couple has a child, the man is automatically presumed to be the father and has full legal and parental responsibility rights to the child. When an unwed couple has a child, however, the father does not have the same rights as he would if he were married to the mother.

Father on birth certificate
Child's hand resting on father's palm.

Can a Mother Refuse to Put Father on Birth Certificate: Pros and Cons

Yes, a mother can refuse to put the father's name on the birth certificate if the mother and father are not married at the time of the child's birth; an increasingly common occurrence with "up to 40%" of all births being to unmarried women, according to CDC.

In cases involving couples who have wed, it is assumed that the husband is indeed the progenitor, and his name will feature in an original version of the birth certificate. For unmarried parents, things are different: Both mom and dad must sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP), also called a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, if they want the father's name to legally appear on the birth certificate.

By signing the birth certificate a father is acknowledging his legal relationship with the child; this means he is therefore obligated to financially support the child. Signing the birth certificate does not establish paternity that grants a father with visitation and decision-making rights to the child. Establishing paternity must be done through a court order, which will also determine custody and/or visitation rights, as well as additional parental responsibilities, based on what’s in the best interest of the child.

If an unwed father is not listed on the birth certificate, he has no legal rights to the child. This includes no obligation to paying child support and no rights to visitation to custody or child support. If no father is listed on the birth certificate, the mother has sole legal rights and responsibility of the child.

What Can a Father Do if He’s Not on the Birth Certificate?

If a father is not on the birth certificate but would like to have legal rights and access to the child, the best idea is for him to establish paternity to acknowledge he will take legal responsibility of the child. To begin the process, he can sign an Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) form and file it with the court. This affidavit indicates that he believes he is the father of the child and would like to legally establish himself as such. The mother’s signature on the affidavit is required to establish paternity. If she refuses to sign it, the father can request a DNA test to be completed by an order of the court.

After Paternity is Established

Once paternity is established, the father now has legal rights to the child. Custody, visitation and parental responsibility can be determined with or without the court; this is mostly dependent on the parent’s relationship. If it’s handled by the court, the court will look at all circumstances regarding both parents and make its decision on what is in the best interest of the child.

Birth certificates can also be amended. So, if a father is not listed on the birth certificate at the time of birth, his name can be added to and he may sign the birth certificate at a later time. There is generally a fee to amend the original birth certificate and can take up to a month to receive the amended birth certificate.

Financial Obligations

By putting the father’s name on a birth certificate, he automatically assumes legal duty for providing financial assistance to cover all costs involved with raising the child such as food, clothing and housing.

Custody Rights

By establishing paternity, the father acquires certain legal rights related to custody and visitation of their child. This grants them the possibility to take part in decisions about raising a kid and provide emotional care for them as well. It is up to court - based on what they consider best for the child – whether such parental privileges will be granted or not. Merely declaring parentage does not guarantee anything automatically.

Access to Benefits

The decision to add the father’s name on a child’s birth certificate can have far-reaching consequences for their life. If this information is included, it may open up access to health insurance and other important benefits like social security death benefit as well as possible inheritance rights.

On the contrary, omitting or leaving out dad’s details from these documents could result in restricted options in terms of financial support down the line.

How Having the Father’s Name on the Birth Certificate Affects the Child

There are a number of reasons a father’s name may be left on the birth certificate: the mother is not sure who the father is, the father cannot be located, the parents are no longer in a relationship, they may have a strained relationship and the mother doesn’t want the father’s name on the birth certificate, etc. Whatever the reason may be, it’s important that both parents understand the implications of leaving the father’s name off of the birth certificate and how it will affect the minor child.

As mentioned, having an unwed father’s name on the birth certificate acknowledges his legal relationship of the child and makes him obligated to pay financial support of the child. This could help cover the cost necessities for the child’s life. This can also entitle the child to be covered under the father’s health insurance plan. In case of the father’s death, the child has a right to social security death benefits and a right to inherit.

If the mother’s concern is the father’s access to the child, the involvement of a court can help determine the father’s rights and access to the child based upon what is in the best interest of the child. If parents are unsure whether to include the father’s name on the birth certificate, or if the father wants to establish paternity but doesn’t know how, the best idea is for them to seek advice from a family attorney.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if the mother won't let me be on the birth certificate?

If the mother is not willing to state you as the biological father on the birth certificate, it would be best for you to obtain legal counsel and file for paternity rights. This action ensures that your identity as a dad will remain acknowledged in an official capacity.

Is it illegal to have a baby and not tell the father?

Protecting the best interests of both parents and their child is key, though it can make things more complex, not informing the father about a pregnancy does not usually constitute a criminal offence. The court’s focus remains on preserving all involved parties' rights while looking out for what would be most beneficial to the child.

Can you refuse to be a father?

Until paternity testing is done through the court system, it’s possible to refrain from signing a birth certificate or taking on parental roles.

Can a mother refuse to put the father's name on the birth certificate?

A mother who is unmarried can opt not to include the father’s name on their child’s birth certificate. If a woman is married when her baby is born, then automatically it will be included as part of the document.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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