As a single unmarried dad, you may feel that your parental rights are not necessarily always recognized or valued within society today. That's a fairly typical attitude for single fathers, especially those who try to take an active part in raising their children. It often seems like the stakes are set against you.
However, there are a few things you can do to protect your parental rights legally. One of them is legitimation. Many people - especially those who only do a basic Google search on fathers' rights - confuse legitimation with paternity. In Georgia, these two processes are separate. Here's what you need to know.
What is legitimation?
Legitimation is the legal process by which an unmarried father establishes his legal rights to his child. Unlike with married parents, Georgia law doesn't presume a mother's male partner is her child's father if the child is born out of wedlock.
That is where legitimation comes in. Unmarried dads often seek legitimation when they've been kept from seeing their child by his or her other parent. Without legitimation, a dad cannot assert custody or visitation rights.
So what is paternity?
In Georgia, paternity refers specifically to a child's biology. A paternity claim establishes who a child's biological father is, often through a simple blood test. Fathers, mothers, guardians and even older children can all petition the court to establish paternity.
Crucially, however, establishing paternity does not establish a father's legal rights to his child. Only legitimation can do that. Therefore, even if you found out you're a child's biological father, you have no right to seek legal or physical custody or parenting time without legitimation.
So how do I legitimate my child?
Establishing legitimation is fairly straightforward. First, you must fill out a Petition for Legitimation. The petition will ask for basic information like:
- The names and addresses of your child and his or her mother or legal guardian(s)
- Who else might have an interest in your case, like a stepparent or adoptive parent
- Particular issues you wish the court to address, like custody, parenting time, child support, name changes and other matters
Next, you must notify the child's mother or legal guardian of your intention to legitimate. They will need to sign an Acknowledgement of Service form (in front of a notary public) acknowledging that they received a copy of your petition. If they do not sign it or avoid your attempts to notify them, you can contact the county sheriff's office to have the petition delivered on your behalf. Hopefully it doesn't come to that.
Finally, you must file all forms with the county Clerk's office in the county where the child's mother or guardians live, pay all applicable fees and request a hearing. At the hearing, a judge will review your forms and make a final determination of legitimation. The judge will only allow legitimation if they believe it is in the child's best interests. Therefore, simply filing your petition and appearing at court doesn't guarantee legitimation will happen.
Can you establish paternity and legitimation at the same time?
Technically yes, but they are still separate processes. It used to be that dads could voluntarily acknowledge their paternity and legitimation by filling out an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. However, that law changed in 2016, so you now must go through the formal process of legitimation in addition to paternity. Many unmarried parents who live together choose to do this to establish a father's full rights to his child. It is all a matter of filling out the proper paperwork for both processes.