Making your child a legal person

That Baby is going to be a human isn’t up for debate. He may be as cute as a kitten, but that’s probably where the resemblance will stop. But whether he is going to be a person, when you’re using the word to define a legal entity, well, that’s a little bit more up to you.

In the U.S., a child’s legal personhood is first established by his birth certificate. If his parents aren’t married, a statement of paternity is generally thrown into the mix, depending on state laws and regulations.

After that, most families choose to apply for a Social Security number, which will then be used on identifying paperwork for school, jobs, home rentals or purchase, applying for a driver’s license, and a lot of other things Baby is still just a little bit too young for, but will probably be interested in eventually.

In the hospital

Babies born in hospitals have it easy – the hospital certifies Baby’s live birth, and his parents just have to fill out a little paperwork to get the ball rolling. Most parents pick their children’s names while they’re still in the hospital and filling out that first rush of paperwork, but you do have the option to wait and name your child later, which some families prefer to having to rush to choose a name.

However, changing the name on a birth certificate can be a lengthy and involved process, and could help to create confusion in your child’s paperwork for years in the future, so most parents choose to have the name settled before they’re discharged from the hospital. Naming early also cuts down on errors in hospitals, since it gives each baby a distinct identity instead of a shared default-name.

It’s at this time that, depending on the guidelines in your state, unmarried parents will be asked to declare paternity. In some states, the father can’t be confirmed in documentation unless he’s physically present, while in others, the mother might be pushed to name a father even if she’s reluctant, for legal reasons.

Establishing paternity is important even for completely amicable, cohabitating, unmarried parents, because it provides a legal framework in case of emergency, discussions of custody, or inheritance in the case of a parent’s death.

Another part of this process is applying for a Social Security card. The hospital itself can’t process this paperwork, and while many hospitals send the paperwork in for you, not all of them do, so it’s worth checking. The hospital won’t register your baby for a Social Security number without your consent, so there should be a box on this form that you check to give your approval. When the paperwork for Baby’s SSN is submitted, his Social Security card should arrive in the mail in a couple of months. If you need the number sooner to claim Baby on your taxes, the hospital should have information on what you’ll need to bring with you to the Social Security office.

For home births

Depending on where you live, you may actually have a bit of leeway for when to register Baby’s birth, if you delivered at home. In Illinois, as long as you register his birth within his first year, you don’t even need to file a Delayed Registration Of Birth form. However, Texas requires that babies born at home be registered with the state within 5 days of birth. Registration of birth documents come from the county clerk’s office, and should be signed by the mother, any midwife or other person who was there at the time of the birth, as well as the doctor, if any, who checked out mother and baby after delivery.

At this time, unmarried parents are encouraged to establish paternity, and once a record of birth has been established, parents can apply for a Social Security card for their children. It’s helpful to have both parents’ SSNs on hand for this process as well, and any other proof of your child’s citizenship, age, and identity.

Do I have to?

Registering a baby’s birth is required in the U.S., though the time-frame for when it’s required by varies from state to state. On the other hand, you are not required to get your child a Social Security number. However, an SSN is needed to claim many benefits and services, especially health insurance, and is used to claim your child as an exemption on your taxes.

Outside of the U.S.

Countries outside of the U.S. each have their own deadline for how soon after delivery a baby’s birth needs to be registered, and different countries use systems besides the Social Security system for alternate identification. Some countries have a very specific time by which babies need to have names, while others leave naming discretion until parents get sick of trying out nicknames. If you live outside the U.S, you should look up the rules and regulations in your country.

  • “How to Apply for Birth Certificate for Newborn in USA?” Path2USA., 2017. Web. Accessed 7/19/17. Available at
  • “GN 00302.515 Notification of Birth Registration.” Social Security Administration, 2007. Web. Accessed 7/19/17. Available at
  • “Difference Between Birth Certificate And Certificate Of Live Birth.” TheLawDictionary. Black’s Law Dictionary Free and The Law Dictionary, n.d. Web. Accessed 7/19/17. Available at 
  • “Register a birth (new baby).” Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012. Web. Accessed 7/19/17. Available at 
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