Discussions about the legal process to establish and protect the parental rights of a father have taken on greater significance over the years because parental rights have traditionally been linked to marriage. The presumption that a child born to a married couple was the legitimate offspring of both parents may have worked in the 1950s when only 4%
of births in the U.S. were to unmarried women. Today, however, laws enabling a father to establish his rights have become essential as the birthrate for unmarried women has climbed to almost 40% nationally and 45% in Georgia
. Obtaining legal advice and guidance from an experienced Atlanta attorney whose practice focuses on family law would be the first place to start for a father seeking to protect his legal rights.
Georgia process for establishing a father?s rights
As a general rule, Georgia law
recognizes a child as born in wedlock and, therefore, legitimate when its parents are married to each other. The parents share equal responsibility
for the support, care, protection and education of the child and each has equal rights to custody and visitation.
A father of a child born out of wedlock does not benefit from the presumption of legitimacy and must take steps to establish specific legal rights for both himself and for his child, including the following:
Father?s right to custody and visitation
Child?s right to support
Right of the father and the child to inherit from each other?s estate
Right of each to life insurance
The fact that an unmarried mother puts the name of the father on a child?s birth certificate does not grant the father parental rights. An unmarried father in Georgia seeking to establish legal rights as a parent must prove both paternity and legitimacy.
Paternity and legitimation processes in Georgia
Paternity establishes that the father is the biological parent of a child. Paternity may be established by both parents completing and signing a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement
form. If the parents sign the form before the mother leaves the hospital after giving birth, the name of the father will appear on the birth certificate; otherwise, only the mother?s name will appear on it. A signed Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment may be rescinded within 60 days after it has been signed. Unless it is rescinded, the form is a legally enforceable acknowledgment of paternity by the child?s father that a court may rely upon to order him to pay child support.
The other method of establishing paternity is through a court proceeding that may be filed by either parent. Court proceedings normally include DNA testing as evidence to establish paternity. Paternity imposes upon a father the obligation to provide financial support for his child. It does not, however, grant the father other parental rights, such as the right to custody or visitation. Georgia requires a father must go through the process of legitimation in order to establish parental rights.
The easiest method to legitimate a child
is by completing the acknowledgement of legitimation section of the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form. If the mother refuses to sign the form or include the legitimation language in it, the other method for establishing the legitimacy of a child is through the courts by filing a petition for legitimation.
The mother of a child who is the subject of a legitimation proceeding has the right to oppose it. Even though paternity has been voluntarily acknowledged or established through a court proceeding, a court may decide that the best interests of a child would not be served by granting legitimation to the biological father.
An order granting legitimation only recognizes the individual as the father of the child who is entitled to assert visitation and custody rights. It does not grant custody or visitation unless those issues were raised in the original petition for legitimation. If they were not, the father has the right to custody or visitation, but he would have to file a separate court proceeding unless they could be worked out through an amicable agreement with the child?s mother.
Establishing parental rights as a father in Atlanta
Unlike other states that recognize the parental rights of a biological father once paternity has been acknowledged or proven in court, Georgia law compels a father to go through two steps, proving paternity and legitimation, to obtain legal recognition of his rights as a parent. Protecting and asserting those rights requires the legal advice and representation that only an Atlanta attorney with experience handling family law matters on behalf of unmarried fathers can offer.