Child custody rights become complicated to establish for unmarried couples in Georgia. The unmarried father of a child must establish paternity and legitimation before he can proceed with custody negotiations. In this blog, we discuss the process of establishing paternity and petition for legitimation to secure custody and visitation rights in Georgia.
Custody Through Paternity and Through Legitimation
Unmarried parents of a child may face complicated rules and standards when establishing the custody rights and responsibilities they each have regarding their child. When a child is born to unmarried parents in Georgia, the law declares the mother to have sole custody. The father is allowed custody or visitation rights only if he is able to establish a legal relationship with the child.
Paternity is what establishes the identity of the child’s biological father. Note that in Georgia, paternity does not provide an unmarried father visitation or custody rights to his child. State law differentiates between paternity and legitimation, which establishes a legal relationship between father and child. A father can receive legitimation at the same time or after paternity is established, but only legitimation allows an unmarried father to seek custody or visitation.
Fathers may administratively acknowledge paternity through a Paternity Acknowledgement Form, which adds the father's name to the child's birth certificate and creates the same financial responsibility as a paternity finding by a court. If the father does not appear on the child’s birth certificate, genetic testing may also establish paternity, or the father may choose to file a petition for paternity with the state courts.
Upon establishing paternity, the father can be added to the child's birth certificate and officially be held responsible for child support. However, even if he might be listed on the birth certificate and pay child support, an unmarried father still lacks the standing to receive custody and visitation rights.
What secures custody and visitation rights is legitimation. An unmarried biological father may petition to legitimize his relationship with a child after establishing paternity. If the court determines it to be in the child's best interests, it may declare the relationship legitimate and thus allow custody negotiations.
Only the biological father may file a legitimation action and must do so in the mother's county of residence. In Georgia, this legitimation action may include claims for:
- parenting time; or
- visitation rights.
Note that the legitimation petition from the father must include:
- the child's name, age, and sex;
- the mother's name; and
- any name change the petitioner desires for the child.
The mother must be given a chance to be heard in response to the legitimation petition. Note that the mother may challenge legitimation by stating the alleged petitioner is not the child's biological father or has lost his opportunity to develop a relationship with the child (such as unreliable periods of abandonment). If the court does not find these allegations to be true, though, it will issue an order declaring the father/child relationship legitimate.
Consult Daniels & Taylor, P.C. for Legal Support
If you are the father of a child born out of wedlock, custody and visitation rights may not come as easily. However, after successfully establishing paternity and petitioning for legitimation, you may request the right to negotiate custody and visitation with your child. It will be helpful to have legal support as you navigate this process, and Daniels & Taylor, P.C. is here for you. For experienced legal counsel to help you reunite with your child, speak with one of our attorneys today.
Contact us at Daniels & Taylor, P.C. for a consultation today.