Legal Matters to Understand as a New Parent

Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP

Becoming a parent is one of life’s most profound transformations. It brings immense joy but also significant responsibilities—including a variety of legal considerations. New parents often find themselves navigating an array of legal documents and decisions, from registering a birth, to planning for a child’s future. Understanding these matters is crucial for protecting your family’s welfare. This article provides an overview of essential legal issues that new parents should consider.

1. Obtain a Birth Certificate

The birth certificate is a foundational document for your child’s legal identity. It is essential for enrolling in health insurance, school, and eventually obtaining a driver’s license or passport. Parents usually need to apply for a birth certificate through the hospital where the infant was born or directly from the state’s department of vital records. 

It is important to ensure that the information on the birth certificate is accurate. Correcting errors after the fact can be a cumbersome process. In particular, parents should confirm that they are named as parents on the certificate. Listing both parents on a birth certificate establishes legal recognition of each party’s relationship to the child. This legal acknowledgment is critical for matters related to custody, inheritance, and parental rights. 

2. Apply for a Social Security Number

Applying for a Social Security number (SSN) for your newborn is another important step. This number will be required for opening bank accounts for your child, obtaining medical coverage, and for tax purposes. In the United States, you can apply for a SSN at the same time you register the birth and apply for a birth certificate, which generally occurs through the hospital.

3. Guardianship and Custody Arrangements

Deciding on guardianship is one of the most important legal decisions a parent can make. This involves determining who will take care of your child if something happens to you. Without a legally appointed guardian, the court will decide who will assume responsibility for your child’s care. It is advisable to discuss potential guardianship with the person or people you are considering to ensure they are willing and able to take on the responsibility. You should then prepare a legal document identifying these individuals as the guardians of your children. 

4. Understand Tax Benefits

Understanding the tax benefits for parents can significantly impact your family budget. In the U.S., parents may be eligible for various tax credits, deductions, and flexible spending accounts (if available through your employer), including the Child Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, and Earned Income Tax Credit. It is advisable to consult a tax professional to maximize these benefits.

5. Learn About Parental Rights and Responsibilities

It is important to understand your legal rights and responsibilities as a parent. For example, California law recognizes two types of child custody: legal and physical. Legal custody allows a parent to make decisions about the child’s health, education, and welfare. Physical custody determines with whom the child will live. 

Parents can have joint (shared by both parents) or sole (assigned to one parent) custody in both categories. Typically, joint custody is the default unless one party has petitioned the court for another arrangement. The state encourages parents to work together to create a parenting plan that serves the best interests of the child and allows frequent and continuous contact with both parents.

In addition, both parents have an equal responsibility to support their children financially. In California, child support obligations are typically determined based on each parent’s income, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and other relevant factors. The state uses a formula to calculate the appropriate amount of support.

6. Review International Considerations

If your family is multinational, or if you travel or relocate internationally, consider the related legal complexities. These might include obtaining dual citizenship for your child, understanding international custody laws, and ensuring your family’s ability to travel across borders with the appropriate documentation.

Navigate the Complications of Parenthood With Experienced Legal Counsel

Parenthood comes with a complex array of responsibilities and decisions, including several key legal considerations. Addressing these issues promptly and thoroughly can ensure the security and well-being of your new family. 

Consulting with legal professionals who specialize in family law can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances, ensuring that you are fully prepared for the exciting journey of parenthood. If you have concerns about a potential dispute with your co-parent, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with the experienced family law attorneys at Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP today. We have over 50 years of experience representing Bay Area families, and we can help you navigate these issues effectively. 

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