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What must unmarried fathers do before they can pursue custody?

On Behalf of | Apr 6, 2023 | Family Law |

There are many people in Georgia who have an intimate relationship with a partner that results in a child, even if they are not married to one another. Sometimes these relationships become sour, resulting in a breakup. When this happens, the child is automatically placed in the custody of the mother.

Unlike most other states, there is a two-step process unmarried fathers must take in Georgia before they can begin pursuing parenting time with their child. First, paternity must be established. Second, the father must be legitimized.

Establishing paternity

Establishing paternity means the child’s father is deemed to be the child’s biological parent. It does not establish a parent-child relationship for legal purposes.

Either the child’s alleged father or the child’s mother can file a Paternity Acknowledgement Form with the Georgia State Office of Vital Records. This form can be filled out and notarized at the hospital when the child is born, or later at the Georgia State Office of Vital Records.

Paternity can also be established via a court order. The court will usually order DNA testing to determine whether the alleged father is the child’s biological parent.

Once paternity is established, the father’s name can be placed on the child’s birth certificate. Also, the child’s mother can obtain child support.

In addition, once paternity is established, the father can submit a form to the Georgia State Office of Vital Records to have his name added to the state Putative Father Registry. Doing so gives the putative father the right to be notified of any court proceedings regarding the child.


Legitimation in Georgia establishes a parent-child relationship that allows the father to pursue child custody and visitation rights. Legitimation is necessary when a child is born to unmarried parents.

Legitimation can be established in two ways. One way is to file a notarized Administrative Acknowledgment of Legitimation with the Georgia State Office of Vital Records. This can be done at the same time as the filing of the Paternity Acknowledgment Form. Legitimation in this manner must be undergone voluntarily by both parents.

The father can also petition the court for legitimation. The mother is permitted to contest this petition by claiming the father is not the child’s biological parent or that the father has lost his “opportunity interest.”

Once the petition is filed and a hearing is held, the court can order the father-child relationship legitimated. Once this happens the father can petition the court for child custody or visitation rights.

The two-step process of establishing paternity and legitimation is necessary if an unmarried father wants to pursue parenting time with his child. Children generally benefit from having a relationship with both parents. Unmarried fathers who want to pursue child custody or visitation should familiarize themselves with the process that must be followed to establish these rights.