New Parents’ 3 Top Legal Questions: Get the Answers
The experience of having your first baby includes: excitement, anticipation, joy, nervousness, and yes-maybe even a little bit of sheer terror-all rolled into one. Getting enough sleep suddenly becomes a luxury, and making a quick run to the grocery store is no longer quick. For most of us, starting a family comes with the realization that there is a little person now for whom we have to be the responsible adult. Providing the basics of shelter, food, clothing, love, and diapers (lots and lots of diapers) are no-brainers. But what about legal concerns now that there is a minor child in the house? Is there some sort of ‘checklist’ for new parents? The answers are yes and yes. Here are a few simple answers to new parents’ important legal questions.
1. QUESTION: Does my child have to get a Social Security number?
Actually (and maybe surprisingly), the answer to this one is no. According to the U.S. federal government’s Social Security website, getting a Social Security number for your newborn is entirely voluntary. That being said, there are all kinds of good reasons why new parents should get their baby one, both for you and your child. It may be hard to imagine right now, but eventually your little person will grow up and having a number makes it easier for them to:
- Apply for a job
- Open a bank account
- Apply for certain types of public assistance or a federal job
- Get a passport
- And more
As new parents, you can claim your dependent exemption and child tax credit on your income taxes. These are substantial tax-break benefits but you can only get them if your child has a social security number.
Applying for a social security number on behalf of your baby is easy. The birth registration form is usually distributed right in the hospital. If you didn’t deliver your baby in a hospital or for some reason were never given this form, you should visit your local Social Security Administration office as soon as possible to get the ball rolling.
2. QUESTION: Do we need to establish legal paternity by taking a paternity test?
The answer to this one really isn’t black and white, because every family’s circumstance is different. If parents are legally married and there is no doubt as to who the biological father is at the time the baby’s born, then you don’t need to do a legal paternity test to establish parentage. The answer is no. However, there are times when the answer is yes and it is advisable to do so.
Consider a legal paternity test:
- If you are not legally married and no longer together. Having court-admissible proof of paternity can help a father establish his parental rights and responsibilities.
- If you are a single mother seeking child-support payments for the new baby from a possible father.
- If you are a possible father who wants proof of paternity before agreeing to sign an acknowledgment of paternity and adding your name to a birth certificate.
Bottom line: If there are any doubts about parentage, ask your partner for a test. A legal paternity test is different from a ‘peace-of-mind’ at-home test and certain processes must be followed in order for results to be court-admissible.
3. QUESTION: As new parents, do we need to name a guardian for our child?
The last thing you want to think about right now is the possibility of your not being there for your child as they grow up. But the unexpected does happen every day, so it’s wisest to be prepared [Bernard]. Even if you don’t think you own any physical assets worth passing on to your baby, naming one or more guardians in your will is extremely important.
Don’t have a will yet? Now’s the time to do it! It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and can even be done online. Just do it, for your baby’s protection. If you don’t select a guardian to care or your child before you pass away, the courts will do it for you and their decision may be less than ideal.
Ready or not, here come all these new responsibilities! Check these three items off your new parents’ to-do list, then relax and enjoy the parenthood ride.
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