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Legitimation required for unwed father's child custody in Georgia


Out of all the concepts that Georgia family law deals with, perhaps none are more confusing to many people than those of paternity and legitimacy. While we've discussed legitimation and its importance in other areas, it should be stressed that, for unmarried fathers, legitimation is the only way to be able to have legal rights to see his children. It also needs to be understood that a legal finding of paternity and an order to pay child support does not necessarily mean that a child has been legitimated.

Children born in wedlock are automatically considered legitimate under the law. In those cases, even when parents separate, both have rights with regard to the children. In the case of unmarried parents, however, the law only considers one parent: the child's mother. Even if the father's name is listed on the birth certificate, if the parents were not married, he may not be the legal father. He likely will have to file a civil action for legitimation in Georgia family court to be recognized as the legal father.

What does this mean? Well, even if the couple lived together with the child for several years, if the relationship ends, the father may have no right to custody or visitation unless the children are legitimated. Again, even if the mother files a petition for child support and a court determines paternity and enters an order, absent a legal finding of legitimacy, the father may be required to pay support, but not have the right to ask for visitation until legitimacy is established.

While these separate rules may be confusing and seem strange, the state considers that they are in the best interests of children to make sure that they are supported and that threats of filing for custody are not used as a tool against mothers by fathers not really interested in a relationship with the children. Unmarried individuals with questions about how their children might be legitimated, or other custody problems, may wish to consider hiring an experienced Georgia family attorney.

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