Paternity & Legitimation
Georgia requires a process beyond identifying the Father’s name on a birth certificate to establish a legal relationship with his child.
Areas of Practice
Divorce, Alimony, Separation & Annulment
Guardian ad Litem
Contempt & Enforcement of Judgments
Paternity & Legitimation
Modification of Existing Orders
Mediation & Arbitration
Grandparent & Third Party Custody
Georgia Legitimation and Paternity Law Firm
Many parents mistakenly believe that as long as the father is named on the child’s birth certificate, nothing further is needed to legitimate the child. Although the father’s name on the birth certificate helps a lot to prove that he is the biological father, it does not give the father the right to spend time with the child or require that the father support the child.
The father must still bring a legitimation action to establish that he is the legal father and to have all the rights of a father, and the mother must still bring a paternity action to have the court enter an order for child support.
In Georgia, the father of a child born to parents who are not married to each other has no legal rights. The mother can make all decisions that affect the child and does not even have to let the father spend time with the child.
In order to establish himself as a legal parent to the child and to ensure the child can inherit from him, the father must initiate an action to declare himself a “legitimate,” or legal, parent. As part of that action, the father can also ask the court to address the issues of child support, legal child custody, and parenting time.
For those types of issues, a father is strongly to contact a family law attorney to make sure he is informed of his choices.
A father’s right to legitimate a child does not exist indefinitely. There is something the courts have called an “opportunity interest,” which can be lost if the father does not take legal action.
For example, if a father waits until a child is seven years old and does not have any contact with the child during the first seven years, a court may decide it is not in the child’s best interest to be forced to spend time with someone who is essentially a stranger.
Of course, every case is different and there are no hard and fast rules for when an opportunity interest will be lost. Nonetheless, the best practice is to legitimate the child as quickly as possible after the child’s birth.
A mother may seek to establish paternity if she and the father are not married when the child is born. When it is established that the alleged father is, in fact, the biological father, the court can declare him a legal parent and establish a child support obligation.
However, the court will not determine the father’s rights with regard to custody and parenting time in a paternity action filed by the mother unless the mother agrees for those issues to be addressed.
In other words, when the mother establishes paternity, she can then obtain a court order for the father to support the child. However, the father still has no legal rights in his relationship with the child; he has only an obligation to support the child. A father who wants to be an involved parent must file a legitimation action.
Georgia law currently allows for the parents to sign a document called an acknowledgment of paternity to establish paternity. This is a quick and easy way to make the relationship between the father and the child legal.
The acknowledgment must be signed by both parents, their signatures must be notarized, the signed and notarized acknowledgment must be filed with the Office of Vital Records within 30 days of being signed, and it must be recorded in what is called the putative father registry. The parents can then use the acknowledgment of paternity to establish child support and a parenting plan through proper legal action.
Georgia law is still unestablished with respect to a child born to same-sex parents who are not married to each other.
The legitimation statute defines the term biological father as “the male who impregnated the biological mother resulting in the birth of a child.” The courts have thus far felt they have no choice but to read the statute literally. Thus, in the situation of a lesbian couple, a legitimation action has not yet been recognized. This is similar to a gay relationship where only one of the parents is the biological parent and the other parent currently has no standing as a father.
To avoid this outcome, we strongly advise same-sex couples to have a second parent adoption so that there is no question about both parents’ ability to continue to have a meaningful relationship with the child if the couple breaks up.