Paternity refers to the parental rights and responsibilities of a man with respect to his children. The easiest way to establish paternity is to through marriage, as children born to married parents are automatically considered legitimate in Georgia. However, establishing paternity becomes much more complex for children who are born out of wedlock. Fathers of children born out of wedlock must establish paternity through legal means if they wish to obtain the rights to custody and visitation. Below is an overview of the laws governing paternity and legitimation in Georgia. For more information about paternity and legitimation for Georgia fathers, please contact an Alpharetta family lawyer

Paternity vs. Legitimation

For the father of a child born out of wedlock in Georgia, obtaining full parental rights (including visitation and custody) is a two-step process. First, the father must establish paternity. Second, the child must be legitimated. Paternity establishes the identity of the child’s biological father, entitling him to be listed on the child’s birth certificate and obligating him to provide financial support for the child. Legitimation goes beyond a mere acknowledgment of paternity by establishing a legal relationship between the father and the child, allowing him to petition a court for visitation and custody, as well as the right to inherit from the child. Without legitimation, only the mother of a child born out of wedlock may exercise custody rights. 

Establishing Paternity in Georgia

There are two ways to establish paternity in Georgia (other than being married to the child’s mother prior to the child’s birth): by a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity and through a court order of paternity. 

Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement

Unwed parents may sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement form at or near the time the child is born, which establishes the father-child relationship when the child’s mother and biological father are not married. It may be completed either at the hospital when the child is born or at any time after the child is born so long as both parents’ signatures are witnessed by a notary public. When the parents sign the voluntary acknowledgment, they establish the child’s rights to certain benefits, including: 

  • Two parents with whom the child may establish an emotional bond
  • Two parents who will share financial responsibilities toward the child
  • Two parents whose names will appear on the child’s birth certificate
  • The ability to receive social security and other benefits from the father

Signing the form also has several implications for the father, including: 

  • A presumption that he is the child’s father (which will be reflected on the child’s birth certificate) 
  • A right to a notice of adoption proceedings 
  • The responsibility to provide child support and medical insurance until the child is 18 years old

Court Order

In the absence of a voluntary acknowledgment, paternity may also be established by a court order. A petition to establish the paternity of a child may be brought by: 

  • The child
  • The mother of the child
  • Any relative in whose care the child has been placed
  • The Department of Health and Human Services
  • One who is alleged to be the father

Once a petition has been properly submitted, a court may order the mother, the alleged father, and the child to submit to a genetic test to determine paternity. The results of this genetic test may then be entered into evidence and will create a rebuttable presumption of paternity if it shows at least a 97% probability of paternity. Once the court finds that the alleged father is the father of the child, it will issue an order designating the father as such, which establishes the father’s duty to support the child. 

For more information about the process of petitioning a court for a determination of paternity, please contact a Woodstock family attorney

Legitimating a Child in Georgia

As with paternity, there are two ways to legitimate a child: through the marriage of the child’s parents after birth and through a court order. In the past, the father and mother could also legitimate a child by signing a voluntary acknowledgment of legitimation (similar to a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity); however, that option was repealed in 2016. 

Marriage of the Parents

Children who are born in wedlock are considered legitimate by default. Children born out of wedlock may be legitimated if the parents of the child marry and the father acknowledges the child as his own. In such cases, the child must immediately take the surname of his or her father. 

Voluntary Acknowledgement of Legitimation (Repealed)

In the past, the father of a child born out of wedlock could legitimate the child by signing an acknowledgment of paternity and an acknowledgment of legitimation prior to the child’s first birthday under O.C.G.A. § 19-7-21.1. However, the Georgia General Assembly repealed § 19-7-21.1 on July 1, 2016. For more information about changes in Georgia’s paternity laws, please contact a Woodstock family attorney

Court Order 

With voluntary acknowledgment of legitimation no longer an option, the only other avenue of legitimating a child in Georgia (other than by marrying the child’s mother) is through a court order. The biological father of a child born out of wedlock may legitimate his relationship with the child by filing a petition with the superior court in the county where the mother lives. The petition must set forth: 

  • The child’s name
  • The child’s age 
  • The child’s sex
  • The mother’s name
  • The child’s new surname (if the father wishes it to be changed)

The petition may also include claims for visitation, parenting time, and custody. The child’s mother must be named as a party, served with the petition, and given an opportunity to be heard. If the court finds that legitimation is in the best interests of the child, it will issue an order declaring the father’s relationship with the child to be legitimate. 

Contact an Alpharetta Family Lawyer for More Information

For more extensive information about paternity and legitimacy in Georgia, please contact an Alpharetta family lawyer at Hait & Kuhn by using our online form or calling us at either of our metro Atlanta locations: Alpharetta (770-517-0045) or Woodstock (678-888-0198).