Navigating the legal landscape when it comes to child custody can be daunting, especially for fathers.
You may be asking, “Do fathers have rights in Georgia?” The answer is yes – but whether your rights are automatic or not depend on factors, like if you are married to your child’s mother or not, and what a court determines your rights are if you go through a divorce.
Let’s take a closer look at the rights that fathers have in Georgia.
Georgia Child Custody Laws
The state of Georgia operates under the best interest of the child standard when determining custody.
This means the court takes various factors into account such as the emotional ties between the child and each parent, the capacity of each parent to provide for the child’s needs, and the home environment each parent can provide.
Importantly, there’s no gender bias favoring mothers over fathers. Both parents have equal rights to seek custody of their children.
Parental Rights in Georgia
Parental rights in Georgia include the right to visitation, the right to participate in decision-making concerning the child’s upbringing, and the right to seek custody.
It is important to note that these rights are not automatically granted, particularly in situations where the parents are unmarried or if paternity has not been legally established.
However, as a father, you can seek to get these rights given to you by the court in a process called “legitimation”.
Father’s Visitation Rights in Georgia
In cases where joint physical custody isn’t awarded, the noncustodial parent typically has visitation rights. Sometimes this is also called “parenting time”.
For fathers, this means that even if you do not have primary custody, you still have the right to spend time with your child.
This time is set out in a Parenting Plan and enforced as an order of the court. That means you and your child’s mother are required to follow the schedule and details of the visitation or parenting time. And if one or both of you do not, then the other parent can ask the court to enforce the order, so that the child gets to spend time with both parents, as laid out in the Parenting Plan.
This Parenting Plan and visitation schedule is subject to the court’s discretion and can vary depending on individual circumstances. Remember – the best interest of the child always comes first.
Custody Laws in Georgia for Unmarried Parents
For unmarried parents, custody issues get a bit more complicated.
In Georgia, if the parents are not married at the time of the child’s birth, the mother is automatically given sole legal and physical custody.
This does not mean that the father has no rights, but they need to be legally established. If not, then the only right the father has is to pay child support – he otherwise has no way to see his child or have a say in their life.
Fathers’ Rights in Georgia if Unmarried
As an unmarried father, you may wonder, “If I sign the birth certificate, do I have rights?” The answer in Georgia is that you do not – the only right you have is to pay child support. And that is regardless of you signing the birth certificate or not.
Below, we’ll cover some more unmarried father’s rights in Georgia.
If the Father Signs the Birth Certificate Does He Have Rights?
While signing the birth certificate is an important step – it helps show that you are your child’s father and that you were there when they were born – like we said earlier, it does not automatically grant legal rights to you as an unmarried father.
To gain legal rights, including visitation and custody rights, paternity must be established through the court. This is a process called “legitimation” and we recommend that you speak to an attorney about it, as soon as you have a child.
This because it is much easier and simpler to be legitimated in the courts when you are still on good terms with your child’s mother, than if you wait a long time if you eventually have a falling out. A contested legitimation takes much longer and is a lot more expensive.
How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity in Georgia?
There’s no set time limit for a father to establish paternity in Georgia. However, it’s advisable to do so as soon as possible to begin exercising your parental rights.
If you wait too long, the court can deny your rights as a father to your child. The court will do this if you were not involved in your child’s life as a father, stating that you lost your “opportunity interest” to have parental rights.
So don’t wait – if you want to be able to see and have a say in your child’s life, talk to a father’s rights attorney in your area and start the process to get legitimated now.
Can Unmarried Father Take Child from Mother Georgia?
No: without legal custody, an unmarried father does not have the right to take the child from the mother. To obtain custody or visitation rights, the father must establish paternity and file a legitimation petition with the court.
This is why we always encourage fathers to get legitimated and have their parental rights established to their child. Yes, you’ll have to pay child support most likely – but you’d have to do that anyway, if the mother files an action for child support against you.
The important part is making sure your child is safe and you’re able to be there in his or her life – especially if anything ever happens where the mother is not around or is not able to care for your child any more. Otherwise, if you do not have your rights, your child could go to another of the mother’s relatives – or even foster care.
Navigating child custody laws can be complex, but understanding your rights as a father is crucial. Whether you’re already a legal father wanting rights established in or after a divorce, or you’re an unmarried father seeking to establish your paternal rights in a legitimation, take action today by consulting with a local family law attorney to guide you through the process. Your children are worth it.