A Father’s Responsibilities: Understanding the Issue of Legitimacy in Georgia Family Law

In the State of Georgia, paternity and legitimization of a child born out of wedlock were long held as two different processes.  Paternity established that the man was the biological father, but the law required a child to be legitimate before the father could pursue custody and visitation issues.  However, since 2005, parents can establish paternity and legitimize a child by signing a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement at the hospital or within the first year of the child’s life (O.C.G.A §19-7-21.1).

Reasons for Legitimizing a Child

Legitimation is the means by which father can establish a legal relationship with their child.  This gives both the father and the child rights that they would otherwise not have.  For children, they gain the right to inherit from their father, to access to medical history on their father’s side, and be placed in a paternal relative’s home if their mother can no longer care for them.  For fathers, they gain the right to petition a court for child custody or visitation rights.

The legitimation process is aimed at establishing the right of the child to certain benefits, including having two parents with whom the child can establish an emotional bond, who will share a legal responsibility to financially support the child, and whose names will appear on the birth certificate.  The process also gives the child the ability to receive social security and other benefits from the father, if needed.

But again, legitimation alone does not establish child custody or visitation rights.  A separate court proceeding must be filed to establish legal and physical custody and visitation rights.

Ways to Legitimize a Child

There are three ways to legitimize a child:

  • The mother and reputed father marry, and the father then recognizes the child as his.
  • The mother and reputed father sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (O.C.G.A. § 19-7-22(g)(2).
  • The reputed father files a legitimization petition in Superior Court (O.C.G.A §19-7-22).

Unwed parents are given the opportunity to sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement form at the time or near the time of a child’s birth.  If not completed in the hospital, parents can complete the form, sign the document in the presence of a notary public, and submit the completed form to the State Office of Vital Records.

Signing a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement establishes certain rights and responsibilities for the father, mother, and child, including but not limited to issues of child support and medical insurance.  Therefore, it is essential for the reputed father to be confident that he is, in fact, the biological father of the child before signing the document.  Prior to signing any legal document, it is always best to consult with an experienced attorney.

Legal Representation for Issues of Paternity and Legitimization

At Andersen, Tate & Carr, our attorneys are dedicated to reaching the best possible outcome for our clients. Our criminal defense attorneys, Patrick McDonough and Trinity Hundredmark, have combined experience of more than 30 years representing clients facing criminal charges in Georgia. For more information, or to request a case evaluation, contact our law office at 1-770-822-0900.