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Unwed Fathers and Their Rights

In Georgia, the law states that if you are not married, the mother is the only parent who has any automatic custody rights. When you are an unwed father there are two main rights you are fighting for. These rights are to legitimate your child and get shared legal and physical custody.

Child custody is decided by what is in the “best interest of the child”. A judge will weigh many factors to determine custody. Parents can have both legal and physical custody rights. Legal custody is the parents’ rights to make decisions for the child. Physical custody refers to the day to day schedule where the child resides. The non-custodial parent is the one who usually is responsible for child support payments.

For an unwed father, it is vital to establish paternity. To fight for any custody or child support rights, an unwed father needs to establish paternity. What this means is that you are establishing legally that you are indeed the biological father of the child. In Georgia, the easiest way to establish paternity is for both parents to sign an “Acknowledgement of Paternity”. The alternative is to go to court and prove paternity by doing genetic testing.

Even though paternity establishes an obligation for child support it does not give you any visitation or custody rights. To have visitation or custody rights, you need to file a legitimation. Signing a birth certificate does not grant you any rights to the child as an unwed father. Legitimation is a legal action which is the only way, other than by marrying the mother of the child, that the father of a child born out of wedlock in Georgia may establish legal rights to his child. You need to show a judge you have a meaningful relationship with the child and the relationship has been ongoing.

To establish legitimation, you need to hire an attorney who can review all your records, hear your story, and advise next steps. If you are an unwed father and are unsure of what to do next, contact Brown Dutton & Crider to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.