Paternity vs. Legitimation

a father carrying his child on his shoulders
Aug 18, 2023 | Content

Determining the identity of a minor child’s father is important for all parties involved. This information benefits the child by providing them with important details about their heritage and family medical history, but it also establishes the legal rights and responsibilities of the father.

When it comes to the relationship between a father and their child, Georgia state law sets out two specific levels—but what are the differences between paternity vs. legitimation? Both terms are used in legal settings, and it is important to understand the nuances of each relationship.

Paternity Establishes a Father’s Legal Responsibilities

Establishing paternity over a minor child involves legally proving the identity of that child’s biological father. Once paternity is established beyond doubt, the father becomes responsible for child support.

There are different ways to establish paternity in Georgia. Unmarried couples can voluntarily agree to establish paternity. This is often done at the hospital shortly after the birth of the child. This process is not necessary for married couples, as there is a presumption of paternity in that situation.

Some paternity cases are contentious. When one or both sides refuse to acknowledge the paternity of the child, court proceedings become necessary. A family court will order the father to submit a DNA sample for comparison. If the results prove a familial connection, paternity is established.

Paternity might determine the responsibilities of a father, but it does not guarantee any parental rights. Fathers’ rights can be secured later through a process known as legitimation.

Legitimation Provides a Father with Parental Rights

Compared to paternity, legitimization is a higher level of legal relationship between a father and their child. It is more than just proof of a biological link between the two. Once a father successfully files to legitimate their child, they gain the right to secure visitation or custody.

When legitimating a child, the legal process goes beyond proving paternity. Even if a father receives conclusive paternity results, he must still take the necessary legal steps to file for legitimation.

Like all issues involving minor children, the judge will consider the child’s best interests when deciding the question of legitimation. It is possible to establish paternity before legitimating a child. This means the responsibilities of being a parent can kick in before Georgia courts grant any rights. Additionally, the judge can refuse to award custody or visitation to a father despite a conclusive paternity test.

Being Named on the Birth Certificate is Not the Same as Legitimation

Many unmarried fathers assume that being named on their child’s birth certificate is enough to establish their rights as a parent. However, that is not the case. While voluntarily listing yourself as the father on a birth certificate can certify paternity, it does not automatically grant any rights related to child custody or visitation. That said, voluntarily signing the child’s birth certificate is the first step toward legitimation. It also obligates fathers to provide financially for the child through child support payments.

Contact Our Firm To Learn More About Legitimation and Paternity Today

While there are similarities between paternity and legitimation, there are also important differences. A father could face the obligations of a parent after paternity is established, even though he lacks any rights related to visitation or custody. Reach out to the Atlanta Divorce Law Group today to learn more.


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