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Establishing paternity and legitimation in Georgia

Many couples with children break up and struggle with dividing up financial responsibilities and childcare, while maintaining their relationships with the child. If a Georgia father wants to have the legal responsibility to care for his child, as well as the legal right to have a relationship with his child, he may have to establish paternity and legitimation.

Establishing paternity

The Georgia courts require fathers seeking custody of their children to first establish paternity. There are several ways to do this, including:

  • Marriage
  • Voluntary acknowledgement
  • Court order/involuntary acknowledgement

If a man and woman were married when the child was born, the man is legally presumed to be the father of that child.

Voluntary acknowledgment

Unmarried parents may fill out a voluntary paternity acknowledgment form to acknowledge paternity. Many parents sign this form at the hospital when the child is born, but they may also sign the form shortly after the child’s birth at a Vital Records Office in the county where the child was born or at the State Office of Vital Records in Atlanta.

Court order/involuntary acknowledgment

If an alleged father is unsure that the child is his, or refuses to acknowledge that he is the father, the court may order him to undergo DNA testing to establish whether he is the biological father.

What is legitimation?

In Georgia, establishing paternity is enough to list the father on the child’s birth certificate and hold the father responsible for child support. However, paternity is not enough for a father, who is not married to the mother of the child, to establish his parental rights. Legitimation allows for:

  • The father’s right to seek custody and/or visitation.
  • The child to inherit from the father and receive benefits (e.g., Social Security).
  • The child to take their father’s last name.
  • The establishment of the legal relationship between the child and the father.

The legitimation process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete, so it is important that the father files his petition with the court as soon as possible. However, keep in mind that the child’s mother has the right to contest the legitimation.