A birth certificate is a government-issued document that records the birth of a child for vital statistics, tax, and census purposes. The birth certificate is typically the first legal document a person will acquire. Birth certificates provide proof of a person’s age, citizenship, and identity.
A birth certificate is needed in order to get a driver’s license, to obtain a social security number, to apply for a passport, to get married, to enroll in school, to gain employment, or to apply for government benefits.
Like any other document, it is entirely possible for birth certificates to contain errors. Such errors are oftentimes a simple typo or an incorrectly checked box, but when it comes to birth certificates, no matter how simple the mistake — it is incredibly important to have it corrected.
The process to initiate a birth certificate correction will vary from state to state, but no matter what state you are in, you will need some form of proof to validate the change. The proof required will vary depending on the nature of the error, but will often be sworn statements, hospital records, adjudications of paternity, or a court order for an adoption or legal name change.
If you’re not sure where to start, then you should contact or go to the vital records office that issued the original birth certificate. They should be able to point you in the right direction and help you through the process of making the change.
What Information Can Be Changed with an Amendment?
If a birth certificate contains incorrect information or missing information, there is a fairly simple solution to fix it. A birth certificate amendment corrects or completes information included on a birth certificate.
If you need to amend a birth certificate in California, you can request to:
- Correct spelling errors
- Add the subject’s first, middle, or last name to blank fields
- Correct typos; or
- Add an AKA (also known as) for a parent who has had a court ordered name change, or a name change obtained through the naturalization process
- All of the above will require a sworn affidavit (a signed statement made under penalty of perjury) stating what the incorrect information is, and what the correct information should be
- Make a change in order to reflect a court ordered name change for the subject of the certificate
- This is a common scenario when a custodial parent remarries and the child wishes to take the last name of their step-parent. This will require a certified copy of court orders
- Correct an error in the recorded sex at birth
- This is not the same as changing the sex listed on a birth certificate because a person has opted for a sex reassignment. This is to correct a box that was incorrectly checked. It will also require a sworn affidavit
- Changing the sex listed based on a sex change/reassignment on the birth certificate to match the subject’s sex identity
- This change only requires the registrant’s self-attestation, but a court order is required if the person also wants to change their name
- Change the birth certificate to reflect a finalized adoption
- Will require a certified copy of the Adoption Order/Final Decree of Adoption
- Add a parent to a blank space on the birth certificate, or change a parent listed after someone else acknowledges paternity or a court order adjudicates someone as the biological parent
This will require either:
- Proof that the parents are now married or state-registered domestic partners
- Voluntary Declaration of Parentage form
- Adjudication order establishing paternity
An amendment to the birth certificate, accompanied with the required proof, can only be requested by the following authorized persons:
- The subject of the birth certificate or their parent, legal guardian, child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner
- A party entitled to receive the record as a result of court order (e.g. adoptions)
- A member of a government agency who is conducting official business.
- Anyone empowered by statute or appointed by a court to act on behalf of the subject or their estate
- Surviving next of kin
What is the Procedure for Correction or Name Change on Birth Certificate in California?
To change a name on a California birth certificate, an amendment form as may be found on the California Department of Health website, must be submitted. The forms are generally very short and simple to fill out.
One of the authorized persons listed above must complete the applicable amendment form from the California Department of Health website. They must provide any required proof, which usually takes the form of supporting documents (e.g. court orders, hospital records) and/or sworn statements. Along with any applicable amendment fee, the amendment form should be dropped off or mailed in to the address listed on the form so that the request can be processed.
There will likely be no fee to amend a birth certificate within the first year after the subject is born, but anytime thereafter, a fee of a little over $20.00 will apply. One certified copy of the corrected birth certificate is provided if the amendment is approved, but a fee is charged for each additional certified copy. To see the current applicable fees, visit the California Department of Health website.
What are the Consequences of Leaving Incorrect Information on a Birth Certificate?
An error on a birth certificate is more serious than it may at first seem. Such an error can delay or jeopardize any process that the certificate is needed to complete (as mentioned above). This could mean the loss of a job opportunity, inability to receive a driver’s license or passport, or complications in custody proceedings.
There are consequences for anyone who knowingly leaves incorrect information on a birth certificate for unlawful purposes or with illegal intentions. The False Identification Crime Control Act of 1982 provides penalties for fraud activity in connection with birth certificates. The law makes it a crime to knowingly possess identification documents containing false information with the intent to defraud the United States.
The law is aimed more towards people who are intentionally forging identification documents, but can still be applied to someone who knows that the information on a birth certificate is incorrect, but fails to correct it for unlawful purposes. Punishment for an offense under this Act could be a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to 5 years of imprisonment.
Should I Contact an Attorney for Help with any Birth Certificate Issues?
While correcting birth certificate errors can be done without an attorney, utilizing an attorney to do so will make for a lot less work on your part. The attorney will handle all of the paperwork and will be responsible for any errors made during the amendment process. They can also help address and answer any specific questions you might have regarding birth certificates and the laws involving them.
If you need to correct an error on a birth certificate, consider consulting with a family lawyer. Because the process to amend a birth certificate differs from state to state, a California attorney will be more knowledgeable about the specific requirements to make the amendment in California.