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Why Establishing Paternity Isn't Good Enough

Many children in Georgia are born outside the bounds of traditional marriage. This isn't so surprising - traditional marriage isn't as appealing as it once was. It's common for modern couples to have children without getting married, and for unmarried partners who live apart to share parenting duties.

In such situations, however, biological fathers are extremely vulnerable to losing their parenting privileges. Under Georgia law, if a child is born "out of wedlock" - that is, if the child is born when the parents aren't married (and have never been) - the father has no legal rights to visitation, custody, and a range of other crucial concerns.

Many fathers believe that by establishing paternity they will regain their parenting rights. Unfortunately, they are misguided. Paternity compels fathers to support their children financially, but offers no help to fathers who actually want to spend time with their kids. An additional step must be taken.

What is legitimation?

The courts recognize that biological fathers should be able to have meaningful relationships with their children. A process called legitimation is the means by which they can claim legal parenting rights. Legitimation enables:

  • The right to for the father to petition for visitation and custody
  • The right for the child to inherit from the father
  • The right for the father to inherit from the child
  • The right for the child to obtain family medical history from the father's side
  • The right for the child to live with paternal family members if the mother becomes unable to provide care

One might say that while paternity establishes a father's legal obligations, legitimation establishes his rights to actually be a parent.

How can a child be legitimated?

To legitimate a child, it is best to act quickly. The biological father can legitimate his child by marrying the mother or, if the child is less than a year old, by signing an "acknowledgment of legitimation."

Matters get messier when more time passes. Courts have broad discretion to grant legitimation or withhold it. When making their decision, they will consider a range of factors, including why the father let time elapse before filing, the father's involvement during the mother's pregnancy, the father's relationship to the child, and the support the father has provided for the child and mother. In short, the courts get to decide whether the father will be a fit parent - an incredibly subjective determination.

Families have the best chances for success when working closely with a highly skilled and experienced attorney. Simply put, a qualified lawyer will know how to work through the legal system (which can be incredibly confusing) and assert the father's rights and interests in court. Without legal help, fathers, mothers, and children alike are often unable to live according to their own wishes, and find their family relationships heavily regulated by the law.

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