Hey Dads, Legitimizing Helps Your Child – Understanding Legitimation in Georgia

father reading a story to his daughter, who is sitting on his lap
Nov 13, 2017 | Sara Khaki

As a father, if your child was born out of wedlock, you have no right to custody or visitation rights in the State of Georgia until the child is legitimized. As such, your child is missing out on some important rights. Legitimation allows your child to inherit from you and receive social security benefits on your record.. It gives your child access to family medical information from your side of the family and it permits your child to be placed in the care of a relative from your side of the family if the mother were to become unable to care for your child.

Paternity Tests Aren’t Enough

Official Code of Georgia Annotated §19-7-25 states that a mother has all the rights until a father legitimates the relationship. It is worth noting that the father does not and cannot take a child until a court establishes a legitimate relationship, as he could be charged with kidnapping. Without legitimation, mothers have the authority to make every decision for your child’s health and welfare and even lawfully deny you, the father, the opportunity to visit your child even if you are paying child support.

According to O.C.G.A. §19-11-14, whether a man has been adjudicated by a court or has voluntarily acknowledged paternity through the administrative process, he is legally liable for the support of the child in the same manner as he would if the child was born during a marriage. There are other ways to establish that you are the child’s biological father, but these methods don’t allow visitation or enable the court to intervene if the mother is denying it. Signing your child’s birth certificate, paying child support, and even paternity tests do not give you rights to any child born outside of a marriage.

The Legitimation Process in Georgia

The Petition for Legitimation should typically be filed with the Superior Court in the county where the child’s mother lives. It’s a good idea to have a DNA test done prior to filing – just to be sure and avoid issues when you are further along in the process.

The petition will state basic information about the child and the parents and whether the father desires to change the child’s last name. The mother will be given notice (served a copy the filed documents) and will have a designated amount of time to either consent or object. A hearing is scheduled and at that time, the judge will issue the order. Legitimation petitions are usually granted unless the mother can show evidence that the father is unfit or has abandoned his opportunity to legitimate, which typically means waiting too long. The judge can also change the child’s last name to the father’s name, add the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate, add or modify child support, and order a visitation schedule.

When You Can’t Find Your Child’s Mother

If the mother of your child has left your child with you and you do not know her address, we can file your petition by publication. This means that the petition is filed with the Superior Court and then published in the official newspaper for that county to move the process along. If the mother was married to someone else when your child was born, or has listed someone else on your child’s birth certificate, we will ensure that the person named is also served or served by publication.

Above all, your child will be given the opportunity to have an involved Father in his or her life. Having court ordered visitation means that it can be judicially enforced, and this is the best way to establish, protect and maintain your relationship with your child. Having an attorney that has experience with the Legitimation Process can make the process much smoother and faster and help you avoid bumps along the way.

Jeanette Soltys formerly worked with the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) in abuse and neglect cases, giving her extensive courtroom experience in litigating complex child custody matters. She has practiced for over a decade focusing on family law cases throughout metro-Atlanta. Her work has been featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Jeanette teaches Continuing Legal Education webinars for the Atlanta Bar Association and the National Business Institute. She has earned two CALI Awards for Academic Excellence and received a 10 out of 10 rating on AVVO as one of the best divorce attorneys in Atlanta.

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