New Supreme Court Ruling Highlights the Importance of Accurate Birth Certificates


Many same-sex couples across the country have gone through bureaucratic issues dealing with paperwork and filings since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country in 2015. Since then, states have been catching up – or refusing to change – their forms and records to have gender-neutral language that allows same-sex spouses the same kinds of rights as opposite-sex spouse. Often this means more than making language flexible to include “wife and wife” or “husband and husband” instead of “husband and wife,” and many of these missing changes have real-life consequences.

This birth certificate decision is one of them. Because birth certificates affect many parental rights, making sure that your child’s birth certificate is accurate and filled out the way that the parents want is vital. No matter your gender or marital status, if you need legal advice on adoption or birth certificate issues, contact a family lawyer today. The Philadelphia family law attorneys at The Sadek and Cooper Law Offices offer free consultations on family law, adoption, and parents’ rights issues, among other family law cases.

Pavan v. Smith Ruling 2017

This recent Supreme Court case used the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, where the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, to claim that current birth certificate rules were unfair toward gay couples. The case focused on laws in the plaintiffs’ home states that required the name of one father and one mother on the birth certificate. The married women wanted both of their names on the certificate, since they were going to be the child’s parents. Instead, the states refused and would only list the mother who actually carried the baby.

Both of these states, like Pennsylvania, allow a non-biological father to be added to the birth certificate. If the mother who gives birth is married, and her husband is not the baby’s father, the mother’s husband can be listed as the father, anyway. The court ruled in this case that the biological mother’s wife may be listed as the other parent if she is married to another woman.

What this case really highlights, though, is the importance of birth certificates. If the birth certificate was merely a piece of paper or a court record, it would not be so important for both parents to be listed. Instead, the court agreed that there was enough at stake to require the states to list the non-biological mother.

Philadelphia Parents' Rights Attorneys

What Does a Birth Certificate Do for Parents?

The most concrete effect of a birth certificate is the legal statement of who the child’s parents are. This has numerous effects, as the individuals listed are the parents for all legal purposes, even if they are not biologically-related to the child. These parents have all child custody rights regarding the child.

As mentioned above, there are ways that a non-biological father (or mother, after Pavan) could be listed on the birth certificate as the other parent. The following methods for determining “paternity” in this way are listed under 23 Pa.C.S. § 5102-5014:

  • For a parent not married to the mother, you can be listed as the other parent if:
    1. You marry the other parent;
    2. You hold the child out as your own and take the child into your home, providing support for the child; or
    3. There is clear and convincing evidence the man is the child’s father, such as a prior court determination.
  • By filing an “acknowledgement of paternity” with the court, which is a sworn statement admitting you are the child’s parent. This counts as “conclusive evidence” that you are the parent, even without any testing.
  • By a blood test, if the issue of paternity comes up in any other case.

When you are listed as the child’s parent on a birth certificate, that statement becomes a legal truth. Whether someone else is actually the biological parent or not, the birth certificate is usually taken as the truth in Pennsylvania – even if it is obviously and actually false. This means that all custody rights and parental rights stem from having your name on the birth certificate. If a parent is not listed, they may need to do additional legal work to adopt the child and gain parental rights.

Philadelphia Adoption Lawyers

A birth certificate’s accuracy is also crucial with regard to adoption. In order to adopt a child, the child’s parents must give up their legal rights, first. This means tracking down the parties listed on the child’s birth certificate and getting them to file the proper consents with the court. If the father listed on the birth certificate is a sperm donor or the listed mother was a surrogate, this can severely complicate matters. This is further complicated in cases where a surrogate mother carried an already fertilized embryo and is not genetically related to the child, but is listed on the birth certificate anyway.

Philadelphia Child Custody and Adoption Attorneys

Ensuring that your child’s birth certificate includes the names of both parents is vital in protecting your parental rights and custody rights in Pennsylvania. Even if you are a same-sex couple, this Supreme Court ruling means that you might be entitled to have your name and your spouse’s name on your child’s birth certificate. The Philadelphia family lawyers at The Sadek and Cooper Law Offices may be able to help. For a free consultation on any legal issues surrounding your parental rights or birth certificates, call our attorneys today at 215-814-0395 to schedule a free consultation.

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