When a child is born out of wedlock in Georgia, the state only recognizes the birth mother as the child’s legal parent, even if a father is named on the birth certificate. For the birth father to have any legal rights over the child, he must file a claim of legitimation. If the mother wants to hold the birth father responsible for child support, she will have to file a motion to establish paternity. There are reasons beyond custody and child support to take these legal actions, and I am happy to discuss them with my clients and to help them take the appropriate action to protect their child.
Legitimation Is Necessary for an Unmarried Father to Have Legal Rights
As the father of a child born out of wedlock, you must take steps to establish your paternity if you hope to have paternal rights and play a role in the child’s life. Filing a legitimation petition is the first step in legally establishing your relationship with the child. If the child’s mother does not want to cooperate in the legitimation process, you will have to file the petition with the court in the county where the child’s mother lives. The court is under no obligation to grant the petition, however. Keys to success include the following:
- Complete paperwork. Fill out the legitimation petition, providing the child’s name, gender, and age, and the mother’s name. The child’s mother will have to be served personally with the petition.
- File in a timely manner. The longer you wait after the child’s birth to file a legitimation petition, the less likely it is that the judge will believe that you want to be a part of the child’s life. This is why it’s important to file the petition as soon as possible.
- Show you are a fit parent. If the petition is contested by the child’s mother, you will have to argue in court that it is in the best interests of the child to grant the legitimation petition. You will have to provide evidence, including a substantiated DNA test, that you are the father and that you are committed to being an involved parent.
If at any point you hope to have partial custody or court-ordered visitation rights with your child, you will first have to file a legitimation petition. Even if you and the birth mother start out on good terms, legitimating your relationship with the child will protect you if that changes down the road. It is important that you get the petition right the first time because you may not get another chance. If you are the father of a child born out of wedlock, contact me to learn more about legitimation.
Mothers Must Establish Paternity Before Seeking Child Support
If you are the mother of a child born out of wedlock and you want to hold the biological father responsible for paying child support, you will have to seek a court order to establish paternity. Establishing paternity in this way does not grant the biological father the right to file for custody—he would have to go through the legitimation process in order to do that. If the father voluntarily acknowledges paternity, a court order will not be necessary to establish legal paternity. If the father contests paternity, the court will review evidence, including:
- Testimony from the mother and father
- Testimony from an expert regarding the timing of conception
- Results of a legally admissible DNA test
The court will determine paternity based on this evidence and can award child support based on their findings. If the presumed biological father does not respond to the mother’s paternity petition within 30 days, the court could grant her child support without a court hearing.
You Need an Attorney on Your Side
Whenever the well-being of a child is at stake, you need to take your actions very seriously. Whether you want to establish your rights as a father, or you are a single mother who wants to get your baby the child support to which he is entitled from his biological father, I can help. Contact my office to learn more about legitimation and paternity petitions.