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Paternity is not enough if you want custody rights

If being a dad is something you have looked forward to, you may have been surprised but delighted when you learned that a woman you dated had a child. Whether you are in a long-term relationship with her or you only went out a few times, you want to do your part for the child as well as participating in each milestone in his or her life. Of course, you must start by determining if the child is biologically yours.

For obvious reasons, it is easier to determine a child's mother than to determine a child's father. If you are a man who is married to the mother of the child, the law assumes you are the biological father. However, if you and the mother are not married, you may have to prove your paternity. In Georgia, taking a paternity test only goes so far in protecting your rights as a father.

How legitimation works

Paternity is just the first step to claiming your rights. In fact, if you took a positive blood test or administratively acknowledged that you are the biological father of the child, you have earned the right to have your name on the child's birth certificate. The child's mother may also demand that you make support payment for the wellbeing of the child. Paternity does not give you the right to any additional participation in the child's life, including custody. For this, you must establish legitimation, which involves the following:

  • You can file a petition with family court requesting legitimation.
  • The petition must include information about the child, such as name, sex and age, as well as the mother's name.
  • You may also petition for a change of the child's name, for example if you want the child to have your last name.
  • You must serve the mother so that she can defend against your request if she desires.
  • If the child has a legal though not biological father, you must serve him, too.
  • If the court approves of your petition as being in the best interests of the child, it will legitimate your relationship. This will give you custody and parenting rights.

Even if the child's mother allows you visitation or even shares custody, without legitimation, you will have no rights if she decides to cut off those visits or even move out of state with the child. Legitimation will give you legal grounds on which to stand to fight these actions. To establish and protect your paternal rights, you would be wise to seek legal counsel about your options and the best course of action for your unique situation.

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