You asked whether E~ (E~) would be considered the child of number holder J~ (NH),
where E~’s mother submitted a Utah court order decreeing that the NH was E~’s father
and an amended birth certificate designating the NH as E~’s father. You also asked,
if E~’s mother establishes paternity, whether that finding is retroactive.
No, neither the court’s order nor the amended birth certificate establishes paternity.
The NH was decreed E~’s father only after his death in an uncontested proceeding that
was inconsistent with the law enumerated by Utah’s highest court, and there is no
evidence that the NH ever consented to be named as the father on the amended birth
certificate. However, if E~ could establish paternity, she would be considered the
NH’s daughter from birth.
E~ was born in August 2003. The NH died in May 2009. At the time, he was domiciled
in Utah. There is no evidence the NH ever acknowledged E~ as his child: when the NH
himself applied for disability benefits, he did not claim to have any children, and
two of his applications were filed after E~ was born. In addition, the NH’s mother
filed a claim for deceased beneficiary benefits, and indicated that the NH did not
have any children.
E~’s original birth certificate did not list the NH as her father. The NH and E~’s
mother were never married, and E~’s mother was not married to anyone else when E~
was born. In an effort to establish paternity and amend E~’s birth certificate, E~’s
mother petitioned a Utah state court to decree E~ as the NH’s daughter. In February
2016, almost seven years after the NH’s death, a Utah state court entered an order
declaring the NH to be E~’s father. In June 2016, Utah’s Office of Vital Records issued
an amended birth certificate, listing the NH as E~’s father.
The Utah Court order and amended birth certificate do not establish paternity for
purposes of social security benefits
Because the NH was domiciled in Utah at the time of his death, the agency looks to
Utah state intestacy law to determine whether E~ was his child such that she could
be eligible for survivor’s benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(a). Under the Utah probate code, a parent-child relationship is defined by the Utah Uniform
Parentage Act. Utah Code Ann. § 75-2-114, see id. §§ 78B-15-101 to -902.
As relevant here, under the Utah Uniform Parentage Act, a father-child relationship can be established
by “an adjudication of the man’s paternity.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-15-201(2)(c). The
standard of proof for paternity is “clear and convincing evidence.” Utah Code Ann.
§ 78B-15-112. Genetic testing may serve as clear and convincing evidence under certain
circumstances. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-15-505, -617(2); POMS GN 00306.645. Genetic testing is the only specific method identified by the Utah Uniform Parentage
Act for establishing paternity outside of marriage or an actual admission of paternity.
See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-15-617; see also id. §§ 78B-15-601 to -623 (discussing adjudication of parentage).
Here, a Utah court has declared the NH to be E~’s father, which is facially sufficient
under Utah law to establish paternity. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-15-201(2)(c). However,
the agency should not honor the court’s order. The agency is required to accept a
state court’s determination only if it meets four prerequisites:
The issue has previously been determined by a state court of competent jurisdiction;
The issue was genuinely contested before the state court by parties with opposing
The issue falls within the general category of domestic relations law; and
The resolution by the State trial court is consistent with the law enunciated by the
highest court in the state.
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 83-27c (adopting Gray v. Richardson, 474 F.2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1973)).
With respect to the first factor, it is unclear whether a Utah court would have proper
jurisdiction to adjudicate whether the NH was E~’s parent. Under Utah law, “[a] individual
may not be adjudicated to be a parent unless the tribunal has personal jurisdiction
over the individual,” and here the NH was deceased at the time of the adjudication.
Utah Code Ann. § 78-15-604. Nevertheless, we need not fully resolve this issue since
we otherwise conclude that the court order does not meet the second and fourth Gray factors.
The second Gray factor has not been met because the issue was not genuinely contested before the state
court by parties with opposing interests. Id. The NH had been deceased for nearly seven years when the order was issued, and there
is no evidence that his interests were otherwise represented in the state court proceeding.
The fourth Gray factor also has not been met. The trial court’s order is not consistent with the
law enunciated by the Utah Supreme Court because it does not appear to be supported
by clear and convincing evidence. The Utah Supreme Court has defined clear and convincing
evidence as such evidence that “there remains no serious or substantial doubt as to
the correctness of the conclusion.” Kirchgestner v. Denver & R.G.W.R. Co., 233 P.2d 699, 700 (Utah 1951). As noted, the only specific method set forth in state
law for establishing paternity is genetic testing. It does not appear that E~’s mother
submitted genetic testing or any other evidence, let alone “clear and convincing”
evidence, to the Utah state court to prove that the NH was E~’s father. The court’s
findings of fact and conclusions of law state simply that the NH is E~’s biological
and legal father, with no reference to any exhibits or other evidence it may have
relied upon for this factual finding. Similarly, in a statement to the agency, the
NH’s mother indicated that she merely completed a form from the Office of Vital Records
in petitioning the court for a paternity determination. Moreover, there is at least
some evidence suggesting the NH was not E~’s father: in multiple applications for
benefits, the NH indicated that he had no children; and in his mother’s claim for
deceased beneficiary benefits, she likewise indicated that the NH had no children.
Amended Birth Certificate
Along with the February 2016 court order, E~’s mother has provided an amended birth
certificate, issued by the state of Utah in June 2016 and designating the NH as E~’s
father. We conclude that the amended birth certificate is not sufficient to establish
paternity. A man’s name on a child’s birth certificate creates a presumption of paternity,
but only if “he agreed to be and is named as the child’s father on the child’s birth
certificate.” Utah Code Ann. § 78-15-204(1)(d); see also, POMS GN 00306.120(B) (information cannot be inferred from a birth certificate if it was issued from
a state requiring proof of consent from father to be named on birth certificate or
court determination of paternity). Since the NH and E~’s mother were never married,
to have properly consented to be on E~’s birth certificate, the NH would have had
to sign a voluntary declaration of paternity. Utah Code Ann. § 26-2-5(7). There is
no evidence that the NH ever signed any such declaration before his death in 2009.
2. If paternity is established by clear and convincing evidence, E~ would be considered
the NH’s child from the date of her birth
Assuming E~ could establish paternity, you asked whether there is “retroactive[ity]”
under state law. Under POMS GN 00306.055(A)(3), which addresses illegitimate children, an act conferring inheritance rights
generally has effect only from the date of such event. However, Utah does not distinguish
between legitimate and illegitimate children. Once paternity is established by clear
and convincing evidence, the child has the same rights as a child born to married
parents, including the right to inherit through intestate succession. Utah Code Ann.
§ 78B-15-202. This means an adjudication of paternity relates back to birth.
Because the Utah state court order establishing paternity fails at least two of the
four prerequisites that would require the agency to honor it, the agency is not bound
by it. In addition, there is no evidence the NH ever agreed to be named on amended
birth certificate. As the court’s order and the amended birth certificate are the
only evidence of paternity, E~ has not proved by clear and convincing evidence that
she is the surviving child of the NH.