Changing a birth certificate is complicated

Dear Ask the Law­yer:

My wife and I have been mar­ried for eight years, and re­cently my wife gave birth to our daugh­ter. While filling out the birth cer­ti­fic­ate form, we ac­ci­dent­ally left the pa­tern­ity sec­tion blank.

When we re­ceived the birth cer­ti­fic­ate and real­ized our over­sight, we im­me­di­ately re­turned the birth cer­ti­fic­ate with a re­quest to cor­rect the pa­tern­ity sec­tion.

The De­part­ment of Vi­tal Re­cords re­fused to cor­rect the pa­tern­ity sec­tion even after we sub­mit­ted our mar­riage cer­ti­fic­ate. They told us to get a court or­der to es­tab­lish pa­tern­ity be­fore they would add my name to the birth cer­ti­fic­ate, and there is no oth­er way.

As I un­der­stand it, ac­cord­ing to the Su­preme Court of Pennsylvania, the pre­sump­tion of pa­tern­ity in­voked at the very mo­ment of birth and no fur­ther pro­ceed­ings are re­quired to es­tab­lish the pa­tern­ity of the child.

My ques­tions are:

1 — Is it true that get­ting a court or­der to es­tab­lish pa­tern­ity is the only way in my case?

2 — Is there a law that trumps the pre­sump­tion of pa­tern­ity by the simple fact we left the pa­tern­ity sec­tion blank?

I en­joy read­ing your art­icles very much, and they have in­spired me to write to you hop­ing your know­ledge of the laws would help us to re­solve our pre­dic­a­ment.

Thank you very much for your help.


Dear K:

Your ques­tion is one of the most in­ter­est­ing ques­tions I have re­ceived in years.

What you are re­fer­ring to is the “pre­sump­tion” of pa­tern­ity. A child born dur­ing the mar­riage is pre­sumed to be the child of the mar­riage. This is not an iron­clad rule. If the parties can prove that there was no ac­cess between hus­band and wife, or that the hus­band was in­cap­able of hav­ing sexu­al re­la­tions, then the pre­sump­tion may be over­come.

What this means in plain Eng­lish is that it’s as­sumed that a child born dur­ing the mar­riage is a child of the mar­ried couple but un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances the pre­sump­tion doesn’t ap­ply.

Your prob­lem is more ad­min­is­trat­ive than leg­al. Con­tact your state sen­at­or or state rep­res­ent­at­ive. See if they can in­ter­vene on your be­half.

If noth­ing can be done to move an im­mov­able state bur­eau­cracy, then en­gage an at­tor­ney who can ob­tain a court or­der. This is a ri­dicu­lous rig­mar­ole and a waste of money, but it may be the only thing that the De­part­ment of Vi­tal Re­cords will ac­cept to amend the birth cer­ti­fic­ate. ••

Stew­art J. Ber­ger is an at­tor­ney with of­fices at 7207 Rising Sun Ave. Ques­tions and com­ments may be ad­dressed to Ask The Law­yer, c/o The North­east Times, 2512 Met­ro­pol­it­an Drive, Tre­vose, PA 19053

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