When married parents decide to live apart, they each have equal rights to parenting time with their children, including the right to seek sole custody. When parents are unmarried, this is not the case. Depending on the circumstances, an unmarried father might have no parental rights.
If you have concerns about child custody for unmarried parents in Buckhead, consult a local family lawyer. Our team can answer your questions, let you know both parents’ legal status in your specific situation, and help you pursue your child custody goals.
A child born to an unwed mother has just one legal parent—the mother. If the parents both sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the hospital or sometime later, the father’s name will appear on the child’s birth certificate. However, signing the acknowledgment does not give the father custody rights.
A father can only acquire full rights by legitimizing the child. The Official Code of Georgia §19-7-22 describes the legitimation process. The father must submit a petition to the court in the county where the mother lives asking a judge to legitimize the child. If the mother does not object, family courts typically grant legitimation petitions and the father gains legal parental rights and acquires parental responsibilities.
When the mother objects, a family court will consider other factors, such as the existing relationship between the father and the child. If there is no relationship and the child is older, Georgia courts might be reluctant to grant legitimation petitions over a mother’s objections. A Buckhead attorney can advise a father how best to proceed if a mother opposes a legitimation petition.
A father who legitimizes his child has the right to ask for custody, but will not necessarily receive it. When a court determines custody or any other issue relating to children, the children’s best interests are the primary consideration.
If the parents have been living together and the father has been acting as a parent, courts will usually try to preserve the relationship unless there is proof doing so is not in the children’s best interests. The law presumes that a meaningful relationship with both parents benefits children. A Buckhead attorney can make a persuasive argument in favor of custody for an active and involved father.
When the father has had only a limited role in a child’s life, a family court would consider several factors when determining whether to grant custody. The reason for the lack of contact, a history of domestic violence or substance abuse, and each parent’s current lifestyle could influence the judge’s decision. When fathers do not know children well a judge is unlikely to grant custody initially but might allow visitation. Contact with the children could increase as the relationships develop over time.
Parents living apart must have a parenting plan. This is a detailed document describing where the children will stay on which days, which parent will take them to school and activities, how the parents will make decisions regarding the children, and similar issues.
Parenting plans usually work best when parents create them together. Working with a mediator can help parents construct a parenting plan that suits the needs and capabilities of the children and both parents.
When Buckhead parents cannot agree on a plan, their attorneys can help each parent document their preferred arrangement. The judge reviews both proposals and decides whether either one serves the children’s best interests. After review, the judge either picks one or substitutes a plan the family court creates.
Unmarried fathers who wish to have custody and visitation rights must legitimize their children. Once this has been accomplished, they have the right to ask for custody.
Whether you are a mother or a father, you should understand the law around child custody for unmarried parents in Buckhead. Speak with a local family law attorney about your rights and responsibilities as an unwed parent today.