Updated: Mar 22, 2018
Georgia makes a distinction between the biological father of a child and the legal father of a child. A legal father has legal rights such as custody or visitation. The biological father may or may not have legal rights depending upon whether he is also the legal father of the child.
The husband of the mother of a child born during a marriage is automatically the legal father of the child even if he is not the biological father. Both spouses have legal rights.
By contrast, a child born out of wedlock has one legal parent – the mother. She has all the parental power. She makes all the decisions including whether to permit visitation with the biological father. The biological father has almost no legal rights unless he legitimates the child. This is true even if he is paying child support pursuant to a court order.
Legitimation is the process of becoming the legal father of a child. A child born out of wedlock whose parents get married and whose father recognizes the child as his becomes legitimate. Otherwise, the only way to legitimate a child in Georgia today is to obtain a court order of legitimation. Custody, visitation and child support are usually specified in the same order.
Between July 1, 2005 and July 1, 2016, parents could legitimate their child by signing an Acknowledgment of Legitimation. This was called administrative legitimation and was often done the hospital when the baby was born. Unfortunately, the unwed father still had to get a court order to specify his custody or visitation rights. This caused confusion and administrative legitimation was repealed.
If you are an unwed father who does not have a court order awarding you custody or visitation, you should seek legal counsel to determine your legal status and options. That is where I come in. I’m Nancy Burnett, Senior Attorney at Nancy Burnett Family Law. I have practiced law in New York, Tennessee and now, Georgia and have more than 25 years’ experience in the practice of law. I can help.