As any father will tell you, becoming a father is life changing. And, when both parents are married, custody is not even a concern because married couples share equally in both visitation and custody rights. Unfortunately, new fathers that are not married to their child’s mother do not share in this automatic sharing of rights.
Default Mother’s Rights
Under Georgia law, only the birth mother automatically has custody rights. Of course, the mother can agree to give the new father visits with the child, and parents themselves, can even decide how to share custody. But, the family courts are the ultimate deciders of what is in the best interest of the child.
Gaining Father’s Rights Outside of Marriage
These family courts can grant custody and visitation rights, otherwise known as parental rights. But, the father must file with the court a legitimation action. Alternatively, both parents can sign an acknowledgment of legitimation.
The acknowledgment of legitimation is not the same thing as being listed on the birth certificate, though. Just being listed as the father on the birth certificate does not give the unwed father any parental rights in Georgia. Even a child support order is not an automatic guarantee of parental rights for unwed fathers. On the other hand, being listed on a birth certificate also does not automatically give the child the right to inherit the assets of the listed father.
The Legitimation Action
If parents do not both voluntarily sign an acknowledgment of legitimation, and the father still wants their parental rights, then a legitimation action is required. If won, this action will legally recognize the father as legal father, which will give the child inheritance rights. In addition, as part of the action, the family court can decide on child support, custody arraignments, and visitation schedules. The legitimation action is filed in the county where the mother and child live.
A key to remember here though is that only the father can file the legitimation action. The mother and child have other avenues to pursue child support or inheritance. But, contrary to popular belief, neither parent is automatically favored in family court as the law sees parents as equal.