South Carolina Legal Services > Blog > Uncategorized > Living Without a Birth Certificate

Living Without a Birth Certificate

Imagine you have no birth certificate because you were delivered by a midwife and were born in your parent’s home over 50 years ago. Your birth was never recorded, and there is no record of your birth at Vital Records. Last month we learned about people with birth certificates that needed to be corrected. People with no birth certificate have a different and sometimes more challenging problem. You essentially need to prove to Vital Records that you exist. Only then will the agency create a delayed birth certificate for you.

Obtaining a delayed birth certificate is often a very challenging process. Without a birth certificate, you cannot get an identification card (i.d.) or drivers’ license. Without an i.d. or license, you cannot get a birth certificate.  So begins the frustrating process of trying to obtain a delayed birth certificate.

Many people first discover that they have no birth certificate when they apply for Social Security Retirement benefits. One SCLS client who successfully obtained a court order had traveled throughout the country and abroad as a trainer for race horses. He carried around a check from the Social Security Administration for thousands of dollars for nearly a year, because he did not have a birth certificate and could not open a bank account. The client was unable to obtain public housing that he otherwise qualified for until his SCLS lawyer obtained an order for a delayed birth certificate for him.

Vital Records has an administrative process for obtaining a delayed birth certificate. An applicant must provide the agency with 3 different documents verifying the birth facts claimed. Only original or certified documents can be submitted. One document must show the full name of the applicant’s mother prior to any marriages. A marriage license or a Social Security Card may supply this information. A second document must show the correct age or full date of birth and place of birth of the applicant. School records, birth certificates for an applicant’s children, voter registration cards, or marriage licenses for the applicant would provide this information. The third document must also  show and verify the full, correct date of birth, including month, day and year of birth of the applicant. Documents such as driver’s records, insurance policies, medical records or military records may be used.

More recently, the trend in home births has caused similar problems, especially when the birth is unattended by a certified midwife or doula. If there are no efforts by a parent to document the child’s birth, the delay in doing so can make it more difficult to do so later.

            With the Real ID requirements fast approaching in October 2020, this problem can become even more urgent for persons without a birth certificate, which is the most important document required to obtain a Real ID. Without it, one cannot enter a federal building such as the Social Security office or use air travel or travel interstate by train or bus.

                Anyone who has never seen their birth certificate, or who is aware that they do not have a birth record, should take immediate steps to apply to Vital Records to get a copy of their birth certificate. If no record is found, this should generate a “Not Found” letter that will be needed to file a court action for a delayed birth certificate.  

            South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help with this process. To apply for our services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online.

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