Wildfires have hit Oregon incredibly hard in recent months. Places that have never before been at risk of severe wildfire damage have been destroyed. Thousands of people have had to evacuate with little to no notice, and as a result, many have lost everything.
One critical set of possessions many have lost are their legal records. Paper files like birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other vital forms have been destroyed in the fires along with people’s homes. When people are already trying to rebuild their lives, this is just one more blow making things more difficult. The cost to replace these documents can be significant, especially if a whole family’s records have been destroyed.
That’s why the State of Oregon has made an incredible offer: anyone who has been displaced or otherwise affected by the fires can get up to three certified copies of any and all of their vital records for free. All that the person requesting the records needs to do is show a single form of ID, such as a driver’s license, and state that the wildfires are why they need new copies. Oregon citizens have until March 31st of 2021 to take advantage of this program.
Why Certification Matters
If these documents are so important, why can’t you just make a couple of photocopies and keep them on your person? That would help you keep track of this vital information and prevent the need for a replacement if something happens to one, right?
Vital records are really vital. A birth certificate is one of the few forms of identification that is accepted just about everywhere. Marriage certificates show that you have legally bound yourself to another person, granting you a variety of rights and obligations. Death certificates are necessary to tie up loose ends and can help surviving family members receive benefits.
As a result, these records are only valid if they are certified copies produced by the government. A significant number of legal transactions require trusting these documents entirely. Because of that, there is are strict requirements and some substantial fees associated with getting copies of these records. This helps protect your vital records from fraud, but it can cause issues when you have lost your original.
The Importance of Certified Vital Records
Having certified copies of your important documents isn’t just useful for your records. These documents are legally required for many types of legal processes. Losing your birth certificate can prevent you from changing your legal status in a number of ways and can even result in legal charges in some cases.
Having your birth certificate and your marriage certificate is critical if you ever decide to get a divorce. A court obviously cannot grant you a divorce from someone unless you can prove you are married to them. The marriage certificate provides that proof. If your marriage certificate has been lost or someone has destroyed it, then you cannot get a divorce without getting a certified copy of the certificate.
Marriage and Remarriage
In order to get married, you are required to present a form of ID. If you don’t have a driver’s license, your birth certificate may be your best method of legal identification. Since marriage permanently changes your legal status and grants you several benefits (better tax rates, insurance coverage, social security benefits), the government considers it essential to check your identity thoroughly. Without a copy of your birth certificate, you may struggle to get legally married in Oregon.
If you are getting remarried, this is just as important. Whether you lost your previous spouse or got a divorce, you will need to provide proof that you can legally get remarried. This may be your deceased spouse’s death certificate, or it may be your divorce certificate. Either way, you will need to show that you are legally single, or the state will not allow you to get married again. You may even risk a charge of bigamy if you do get remarried and cannot prove that you were legally free to marry.
Whenever your marital status changes, your tax rate will change as well. While you don’t need to provide your marriage or divorce certificates when you file your taxes, it’s still important to have a copy on hand. If you ever get audited, these documents will help you prove whether and when your marital status changed. Since the difference between filing as single or married can be significant, these are documents that can make or break your audit.
Your records are not the only important ones. Having copies of your child’s birth certificate is critical, whether you’re single, married, or divorced. Their birth certificate is the key to several essential childhood milestones and records.
First and foremost, a birth certificate or adoption papers show your child’s parentage. If there is ever any question about whether your child is yours, their birth certificate or adoption papers prove your legal relationship. This can be especially important if you are fighting for legal custody of your child. If you cannot prove that your name is on these legal documents, then you may not be able to begin custody proceedings, much less win custody.
On a slightly less serious but still significant level, many schools will not allow your child to enroll without a copy of their birth certificate. This certificate proves your child’s identity and age. You also may need their birth certificate to switch pediatricians because identification is necessary for the doctor to access their medical records.
Oregon is stepping up to care for its citizens. When so many people have lost everything, the state is making one thing a little easier. If you have been affected by the fires in Oregon and need new copies of your vital records, you can get the documents you need for free for a limited time. It’s worth taking the state up on this offer because you or your children are guaranteed to need these records eventually.