In Georgia, while mothers have inherent rights concerning their children at birth, establishing fathers’ rights is often more complicated. At Stearns‑Montgomery & Proctor, our family law attorneys handle matters relating to fathers and their children, both in cases of divorce and in those where the parents are unmarried. With over 30 years of experience, we rely on tried and true strategies that can help ensure you play an active role in your child’s life.
Establishing Your Parental Rights as a Father
There is a common misperception that being named as the father on your child’s birth certificate is enough to ensure you have rights to visitation and for making decisions regarding their care. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Signing the birth certificate only helps to establish paternity, meaning the identity of the father, and can be used to establish child support payments. However, it does not give you any parental rights. Only the mother of the child born out of wedlock is entitled to custody and has all parental rights over the child, unless the father legitimates the child.
Under the Official Code of Georgia there are four ways in which you can legitimate your child:
- You were legally married to the mother at the time she gave birth;
- You legally marry the mother after the birth and recognize the child as your own (assuming paternity has not been disproved through the court system);
- You legally adopt the child;
- You file a legitimization action in court.
Thus, if you have not married the mother of your child (before or after birth) or legally adopted the child, then you must go to court to establish any rights to custody or visitation, even if you are on the child’s birth certificate. Legitimation also establishes the right of inheritance for your child and allows the court to determine the name by which the child will be known.
The petition for legitimization begins with a court hearing. Often the court will order you, the mother, and the child to submit to DNA testing. If you are proved to be the father, the court may order child support, but the court will not necessarily grant legitimacy that includes visitation, parenting time, or custody.
The court will look at several issues before awarding legitimacy. Most importantly, it will look at whether granting legitimization is in the best interests of the child. The court will ask if the pregnancy was due to nonconsensual sex or if there are any allegations of family violence. In addition, the mother will also have the right to present her side of the matter to the court and can make objections to your requests for visitation, parenting time, or custody.
Obviously, an experienced attorney who knows the court system and can present your case well is essential. To get our team started on your case, call or contact Stearns‑Montgomery & Proctor online today and request a free consultation.