How to Make Your Baby a Legal Person: Paperwork

Making your baby a legal person starts with a birth certificate. You’ll need that document if you want to add the new baby to your health insurance, apply for a Social Security number or baby’s first passport.

Applying for a birth certificate

Getting a birth certificate for a newborn is not usually a complicated process. If you give birth in a hospital or birthing center, the staff will probably fill out and file a birth certificate application for you. If you’re planning a home birth, your midwife can also report the birth and help you file an application. Some hospitals may even ask you to partially fill in the personal details before you give birth. After the delivery, hospital or birthing center personnel supply the birth certificate’s medical details and parents provide any needed personal information, such as the home address, Social Security numbers and the baby’s chosen name.

Don’t worry if you’re still not sure about the baby’s name  by form time. Many states will let you change the baby’s name during the early months. Developmentally, it’s not a problem since  babies don’t recognize their own name for at least six months.

If you do decide to change your baby’s name, be prepared. Each records office may have its own protocol for making such changes, so find out what’s involved. If you do change your baby’s name and your child already has a Social Security number, notify the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Hospitals have five to 10 days to report a birth. Since it takes an average of 30 days to process the birth certificate, parents generally receive the paper copy in about six weeks. If you haven’t received one by then, contact your state’s Vital Records office.

What will the birth certificate look like? That depends on where it’s issued. The US does not have  a standard birth certificate document. As a result, there are thousands of varieties currently in circulation.

Applying for a Social Security number

You can apply for a Social Security number for your baby at the same time that you apply for the birth certificate. The city or state agency issuing the birth certificate shares your baby’s information with the SSA and that federal agency mails you the card bearing your baby’s Social Security number. Parents can also apply for a Social Security number at any SSA office. To apply, they need to bring evidence of the child’s age, identity, and U.S. citizenship status.

Baby’s first passport

Applying for baby’s first passport has to be done in person, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a passport office. Parents can also visit a post office that takes passport applications. Both parents have to be present when applying for a child under 16 who never previously had a passport.

If you download the application form, be sure to print single-sided copies, since double-sided copies of the form are not accepted. Fill in all the requested information, even if your answer is N/A.

Besides the application form, you will need to bring the baby’s birth certificate, a photo of the baby against a white background, acceptable photo identification for both parents, as well as passport and processing fees. If you need to establish your child’s citizenship, you may need to bring more documentation, such as a certificate of citizenship, or a certificate of naturalization. If your child is born in a foreign country and you are both US citizens, you will have to register that child’s birth with the consulate to clarify that child’s US citizenship.

If you adopted your child, you will need to bring an adoption decree.

If both parents can’t be present at the application process, the other parent needs to fill out a notarized statement of consent. Getting the passport usually takes six to eight weeks.

Keep these documents in a safe place.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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