In the State of Georgia, a child born out of wedlock is the legal child of the mother ONLY. Oftentimes, parents are instructed by hospital administrators to execute an Administrative Legitimation. Some parents believe that both parents gain rights to the child by signing this document. Unfortunately, this is a common misperception.
Children born to unmarried parents in Georgia do not have a legal relationship with their fathers until an action for Legitimation is filed. The proper English word for the process is Legitimization, but Georgia statues refer to it as "Legitimation." Only a biological father (or a man who believes he is the biological father of a child) has standing to file legitimation. A legitimation filing seeks to render the parent-child relationship legal (legitimate) as between father and child. Both the father and the child gain rights if and when the petition is granted.
If a Mother seeks to have her child, born out of wedlock, given rights that do not automatically arise, she may file a Petition to Establish Paternity.
Interestingly, even a Father who is not legitimized can be ordered to pay child support. This order is often separate and does not, in and of itself, provide the Father with rights to his child or the child specific rights to inheritance from the Father.
If you are a Mother or a Father and have a child born out of wedlock, the Law Office of Gina Smalley can help.
Some of the rights that can be gained following a Legitimation or Paternity action are inheritance rights (between both parent and child), and rights to seek visitation, custody, and parenting time. For a Father of a child born out of wedlock, any parenting time granted prior to a legitimation is solely at the discretion of the Mother.
Courts favor legitimation. This means that, in general, a judge will prefer to grant a legitimation over denying it. The primary reason for this is that the child has two (2) adults responsible for his or her care and two (2) individuals arguably capable of providing for the child. In addition, as noted above, legitimation also provides the child with the right to receive funds from the estate of a legal parent. Absent a will, generally, a child born out of wedlock has no such inherent right.
There are, of course, defenses to a legitimation or paternity action. Biology is the most common. A man who is not the biological father of a child has no standing to be declared the legitimate father (outside of a marriage), and lack of paternity is a defense to a Petition for Paternity filed by a mother. Similarly, child abandonment is a defense to legitimation. Abandonment occurs when a father, who has been made aware that he is the father of the child, fails to establish a meaningful relationship with the child (unless such failure is due to denial of access) and/or has failed or refused to provide meaningful financial support for a child.
Sometimes, Mothers or Fathers seek action to protect themselves and/or their child separately. Other times, parents who both want the child to have a legal relationship with both parties seek a united effort to accomplish their goal.
Either way, if you have a child born out of wedlock and would like assistance, the Law Office of Gina Smalley has extensive experience in the error and can help you and your loved ones gain, maintain or re-take your rights.