Legitimation - Becoming "Dad" when You've Never been Married to Your Child's Mom
Being the father of an child without being married to their mother can be a confusing and frustrating experience, especially in the state of Georgia. You may feel like you don't have many rights as an unmarried dad - but there are actually ways for you to legally become your child's parent and take on all of the responsibilities (and privileges!) that come with it. Legitimation is the route set forth by Georgia law that can give you parental rights even if you never said "I do" to your child's mother. In this post, we'll explore what legitimation is, explain its importance in protecting dads who weren't married when they had children, and outline the necessary steps for becoming legitimated in Georgia so that you can officially be recognized as "Dad".
What is Legitimation?
As a father, it's important to establish your legal rights to your child, even if you are not married to their mother. This process is known as legitimation, and it can provide you with the ability to make important decisions about your child's life, such as medical care and education. Legitimation is a court process and you only become legitimized through a final court order. Just being on the birth certificate is not enough in Georgia. The only "right" you have by being a biological father who is not legitimized is the right to pay child support. Until you have that court order in hand granting your legitimation, the mother of your child can keep the child from you and block your communications regarding the child.
Failing to legitimize your child in a timely manner can have serious consequences, including not being able to seek custody or visitation rights. You can forfeit your rights as a father if you don't pursue them in enough time. If that happens and the court denies you the legitimation because you failed to act soon enough, then you will be forever barred from being involved in your child's life as a child. Of course, if the child turns 18 and seeks you out, they are free to do so, but you miss out on the precious and formative years of your child by not being timely legitimated.
In Georgia, the process of legitimation is always started by the father - mothers cannot seek to make a father become legitimated (though as discussed previously, mothers can seek to establish paternity and get a child support order for the father to pay child support for his biological children). We work with fathers seeking to legitimate and gather all the evidence and documents for our clients. We then file the paperwork with the court and move to have a DNA test done to confirm the paternity of our client to his child or children.
Then, once the court sees that the father is in fact the biological father, we advocate for our client to have parenting time and other custody rights (such as being involved in the decision making for the "main 4" areas in children's lives: religious upbringing, education, extracurricular activity participation, and non-emergency healthcare) with his child. This usually includes attending mediation to try and negotiate with the mother. Sometimes the court will appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) as an attorney to represent the child, to make sure the legitimation and custody arrangements are in the best interest of the child, and to make a recommendation to the court of what they think and find. If necessary, we prepare for and attend a final trial on the legitimation and custody arrangements for our clients, making sure they have the best possible chance of getting a favorable outcome from the judge. If the father and mother cannot come to an agreement on legitimation or custody, it is ultimately up to the judge to decide, based on the evidence, what will or will not be granted in regards to the father and his relationship to and with his child.
Uncontested Legitimation - When Mom and Dad Agree
When you're in a relationship with the mother of your child, the last thing on your mind might be getting officially legitimized. But it's important to think ahead and plan for the future. It's always better to take care of these matters while you're still on good terms with your child's mother - not only is it better for you as a parent, but it is also better for your child, as it provides security and stability should you and your child's mother ever separate or if something ever happens to the mother.
If you don't go through the proper legal channels and determine custody provisions now, it could lead to a long and expensive legal battle in the future - starting with proving you are in fact the biological father, and then fighting for custody of your child. By being proactive and getting legitimized early on, you can avoid or at least mitigate any potential issues down the road, if things end in your relationship with the child's mother. Plus, it shows a commitment to your child's well-being and stability, which can only strengthen your relationship with their mother. Don't wait until it's too late – take care of these important matters now.
Contested Legitimation - When Mom Fights You
Contested legitimation cases in Georgia can be challenging for fathers fighting for their rights in court against their child's mother. You start in an uphill battle - but it is not impossible, and we see clients overcome and succeed in their legitimation cases often. You as the father must bring the case against the mother. Usually, if you are on speaking terms with the mother, the battle will not be as bad. But if you had a rough breakup, and if the mother is not even allowing you to talk to or see your child, then know that you're in for a fight.
Know that for court, to prove you are the biological father, a DNA test is required. Both you and the child will get tested, to see and confirm that your child is in fact your child. Once that fact is established, the next thing the court wants is for you to demonstrate that you have been an active and involved parent in your child's life since their birth. If you have not been, and you were not wrongfully kept from doing so by the mother, then you may not be granted your legitimation, even though the child is your biological child. Additionally, you will need to show that it is in the best interest of the child for you to be recognized as their father by law and to have custody time with them from now and in the future. The process can be overwhelming, but with the right legal counsel and adequate proof, you can fight for and be in the best position possible to become legitimated and gain the right to custody and parenting time with your child. Stay focused, be diligent, and trust in a fair and just legal system that prioritizes what's best for the child.
How We Can Help
As a father, your relationship with your child is precious and worth fighting for. Whether you are facing a smooth agreement with your child's mother for legitimation or a tough custody battle, our team at Your Law Firm understands the intricacies of family law and we are here to help. With our dedication to securing your rights as a father, we work hard to provide you with the legal support you need to put your best foot forward. Our approach ensures that you feel supported and heard throughout the entire process. You can trust us to navigate the legal system with expertise and compassion, and we will work tirelessly towards the best outcome for you and your child. Contact us today to begin securing your place in your child's life.