You’re an unmarried father and you want to play a significant part in your baby’s life. Research shows that having contact with the father can increase a child’s language and social skills. Being there for your child is important, and it says a lot that you are working to make that happen.
Unfortunately, in Georgia, the law says that if you are not married, the mother is the only parent who has any automatic custody rights. You’ve got some work ahead of you to gain father's rights for your child. Even if you are currently living with the mother or have been in a relationship for many years, you still don’t have automatic rights if you’re not married.
There are two main rights that you are fighting for as an unwed father. The first is custody rights. Custody is decided by what is in “the best interest of the child.” A judge will weigh factors (pro and con) between the father and mother and decide which parent will be the custodial parent.
The custodial parent has both legal and physical custody rights. Legal custody refers to the parent’s right to make decisions for the child. Physical custody refers to the right to have the child live with that parent and receive daily care. There are times when joint custody is awarded, but more often than not, one parent will be named the custodial parent.
If you are a non-custodial parent, you will not have legal or physical custody rights, until you do something to establish those rights. Also, the non-custodial parent is the one who is usually responsible for child support payments, which help pay for expenses related to raising the child. Keep in mind that in Georgia, fathers have just as much right to child support if the father is later named as the custodial parent.
In order to fight for these custodial and child support rights, as an unwed father in Georgia, your first job is to establish paternity. Paternity is important because it establishes legally that you are indeed the biological father of the child. Paternity also establishes an obligation for child support but does not give you any visitation or custody rights.
In Georgia, the easiest way to establish paternity is for both parents to sign an “Acknowledgement of Paternity” form when the child is born or at any local Vital Records Office. The alternative to this form is to go to court to prove paternity. You can also get genetically tested to prove paternity.
Just signing your child’s birth certificate does not grant you any rights to the child. You have to show the court that you have a meaningful relationship with the child and that this relationship has been ongoing since the child was young. This process is called legitimation and it’s the second major hurdle for any unwed father in Georgia.
Legitimation is a complicated process and there are lots of factors to consider when trying to show a judge that you have played a significant part in the child’s life. If you are an unwed father trying to establish legitimation, you need to hire an attorney who can carefully review all your records, hear your story, and advise you of the next steps to take.
You can earn rights as an unwed father. It is a difficult process, but it can be done! If you are an unwed father near Atlanta (near Clayton, Fayette, Henry, or Fulton counties), you need to contact Family Matters Law. We have extensive experience working with many fathers trying to earn custody and visitation rights.
Setting up an appointment is easy. Simply call the number below or use our convenient online contact form. We look forward to hearing from you.