In the state of Georgia, sole custody of a child born to unwed parents is automatically granted to the mother. The father must establish a legal relationship to the child in order to be granted visitation or custody rights. This is known as legitimation, and is separate matter from paternity. There are a few ways these can be accomplished.
Paternity can be established by the father marrying the mother of the child, signing a voluntary paternity acknowledgment form when the child is born, or obtaining a court order designating the child’s father. By law, every hospital where a child is born must give unwed parents the opportunity to sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment. It must be signed by both parents, and notarized. In addition, both parents and the child must submit to a DNA paternity test. If the tests returns positive, the father is added to the birth certificate. However, this still does not give him custody or visitation rights.
Custody and visitation rights for an unwed father who was not added to a birth certificate at or shortly after a child’s birth may come only through the filing of a legitimation claim with the court in the county where the child’s mother resides. The court will require a positive paternity test, as well as reason to believe a father/child relationship will be in the best interests of the child. A mother may challenge a legitimation claim.
The best thing for an unwed father to do is to consult with a family law attorney who can help explain all rights and processes, as well as answer any questions a father may have. In addition, he or she can make sure the father understands what will be his ongoing legal responsibility once fatherhood is proven.