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Paternity and legitimation actions in Georgia

Many fathers want to be involved in their childs’ lives regardless of whether they were married to a child’s mother at the time of the birth. Of course children also benefit from having a close relationship with their father. Fathers wanting to establish custody or visitation rights to their child need to go through the appropriate legal proceedings. A father may need to establish paternity as well as pursue a legitimation action.

What is the difference between paternity and legitimation?

  • Paternity: Although paternity identifies a man as the biological father of a child, it does not grant him any legal rights with regard to his son or daughter.
  • Legitimation: When a child is born out of wedlock, legitimation is required for a man to be recognized as the legal father of a child. Therefore, legitimation is required before a father can petition a court for child custody. Georgia is one of only a handful of states that require legitimation actions prior to the father obtaining legal rights to his child.

Establishing paternity in Georgia

If a father consents to being listed on a child’s birth certificate, this establishes evidence of paternity. Parents may also complete and sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity form that will add the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate. Another way of establishing paternity is if the mother, alleged father, child, or a relative caring for the child petitions the court to establish paternity. This often involves a DNA test.

The Department of Human Resources may also pursue a paternity action where the Office of State Administrative Hearings has the authority to issue a decision on paternity. When a man is found to be the biological father of a child he has an obligation to financially support the child, so child support payments may be ordered.

Options for legitimation

Other than marrying a child’s mother, a legitimation action is required for a father to establish legal rights (including custody and inheritance rights) to a child born out of wedlock. This is true even if a father is listed on the child’s birth certificate.

A Paternity Acknowledgment Form also has a section referring to legitimation at the bottom. If both parents agree and sign the legitimation section it is considered an administrative acknowledgement of legitimation and grants the father legal rights to his child. A voluntary acknowledgement must take place before the child’s first birthday, and is not valid if the mother is currently married, or was married to anyone else during her pregnancy.

A biological father may also file a Petition for Legitimation in juvenile court at any time after the birth of a child. The mother has a right to contest the petition.

Consult with an attorney

If you are a father seeking to establish paternity or bring a legitimation action, it is wise to contact a lawyer. An attorney can advise you on the best way to proceed based on your specific circumstances and goals.