How to Prove a Parent-Child Relationship for Citizenship or

July 11, 2023 – 10:56 am
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When official documents aren't sufficient to show that you're a child's father or mother, you may need to provide DNA or other evidence.

If you are allowed to live legally in the United States (whether as a U.S. citizen, green-card holder, or almost anything else), chances are your foreign-born children are eligible to live here too. (Note that this article does not discuss the eligibility requirements for stepchildren and adopted children.)

In order to be eligible to live in the United States, your children will need to prove that you really are their parent. This article describes how the U.S. government may allow them (or you) to prove that relationship — depending on whether you are the child’s mother or the child’s father.

How to Prove a Mother-Child Relationship

To prove a mother-child relationship, it is enough to submit evidence of a biological relationship, preferably in the form of an acceptable birth certificate. (This is assuming, of course, that the child has not been permanently adopted by someone else — such adoption would legally terminate any prior parent-child relationship.)

A birth certificate is usually acceptable if it was registered not too long after the child’s birth and it includes, in addition to the child’s date and place of birth, the names of the mother and the child (matching their names on other official documents), as well as evidence that the certificate was issued by the appropriate government authority of the child’s country of birth (for example, the signature and seal of the appropriate local government official).

Sometimes, a birth certificate is not acceptable or available. (If, for example, you are a refugee from Somalia, it is possible that your child’s birth record was destroyed during that country’s civil war.) In such a situation, you should at least try to find out whether you can obtain from the government of the child’s country of birth an official letter (often referred to as a “certificate of nonavailability”) explaining why an acceptable birth certificate cannot be issued. Regardless of whether your attempts succeed or fail, however, be prepared to submit as many alternative documents as possible.

Alternative documents may include two or more affidavits of birth (sworn letters written by relatives or other persons with personal knowledge of the facts of a child’s birth), as well as medical records, school records, and religious records (such as certificate of baptism issued by a church) showing the names of the mother and the child.

If alternative documents are not available or sufficiently credible (believable), the U.S. government may require that the mother and child obtain a blood test from a laboratory accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks(AABB). Such a test, though not routinely requested, would at least prove that the mother and child could be directly related. If it is requested of you, you should know that refusing to take the test would be interpreted as evidence of ineligibility, except if you do so for legitimate religious reasons. (The fact that the test is expensive is not reason enough.)

How to Prove a Father-Child Relationship

If you’re seeking to prove a father-child relationship, providing a birth certificate with your name on it or other evidence of a biological relationship will not be enough by itself.

The U.S. government will certainly require you to supply such evidence of a biological relationship (remember that we’re not discussing stepchildren or adopted children here). You can show your biological link to the child in the same way that a mother would, as described above, including by DNA testing. The main difference for fathers is that the names of both the father and the mother (not just the father) must appear on any acceptable birth certificate.

In addition, however, the U.S. government requires either evidence that the child was legitimated before he or she turned 18 or in the alternative, evidence of a personal relationship between the father and the child before the child turned 21.

Evidence that the parents married or the child was otherwise legitimated before age 18

A child born to unmarried parents is often referred to as “illegitimate” (or, under previous versions of the immigration law, “out of wedlock”). In such cases, the U.S. government will want to see further evidence that the child’s father is truly his or her father. And even if the child was born to married parents, you’ll need to prove this fact.


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