What is Paternity in Georgia?
Paternity is the act of a father legally claiming his offspring as his own, under the law, for the purposes of support and inheritance. Paternity can be established in relationships between both married and unmarried partners.

Paternity in the Context of a Marriage – In the state of Georgia if a couple is legally married then the paternity of the child is legally established and determined to be that of the husbands.

Paternity when Single / Unmarried – In unmarried situations a father may be required to take legal actions to ensure financial support and visitation / custody rights. The process through which a father seeks to establish paternity is called legitimization. Paternity may only be established through a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity filed by both parents at the time of the child’s birth or must be done through the courts and legal action.

Until a father has established paternity rights then the birth mother solely maintains all legal and custodial rights over the child. Once a court establishes paternity through the legitimation process then the judge may then establish the fathers’ rights to visitation and custody. A father will not have any right to his child until the paternity is established.

How to Establish Paternity:  There are two ways to establish paternity in the state of Georgia.

Parents can both agree to the terms of establishing paternity and sign a voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form. The form is available at the hospital following the child’s birth and can be filed out and filed at a later date. The form must be signed by both parents, witnessed, and signed in front of a notary public. If the form is signed outside of a hospital can be filed out in the State Office of Vital Records or in the Vital Records Office in the county in which the child was born. In the event that the voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity Form is not signed at the hospital only the mothers name will appear on the child’s birth certificate.

Through the state the Acknowledgement of Paternity form is filed with the Putative Fathers Registry of Georgia located within the Department of Public Health. This filing of information further acknowledges the fathers’ rights as a claimed or alleged father and is designed to inform the father of any legal changes that may occur in terms of custody. For example the registry may ensure that the biological father is notified prior to the legal adoption of his children to a third party.

Legitimation Through an Acknowledgment of Paternity Form:
It is possible for both parents to establish a legitimation through an Acknowledgment of Paternity Form in addition to simply establishing paternity. If the father wants to establish custody or visitation rights to the child then he must sign the “legitimation section” on the paternity acknowledgement form. Signing the legitimation section does not grant the father equal rights over the child or any rights at this time, but can give him the ability to request rights concerning custody and visitation in the future. Additional rights may also be awarded to the father such as the child’s ability to inherit the father’s property and for the father to legally receive educational and medical information’s and vice versa. If the legitimation section of the form is not signed during a 1 year time following the child’s birth then the father will be required to pursue legitimation through the court system via a petition for legitimation.

Legitimation Through the DCSS
Parents can file a paternity action directly with the court or through the Division of Child Support Services or DCSS. Filing this action means that the court can establish via DNA testing that the alleged father is in fact the child’s biological father. Genetic testing is not mandatory in all cases but in cases of doubt can be requested through DCSS or the courts. For fathers who do use DCSS to establish paternity the fathers will be required to pay the fees for genetic lab testing. For information concerning Genetic Paternity Testing you may contact the Georgia Paternity Program at 1-866-296-862 or select an independent local paternity lab.  The problem with this method is that it does not generally settle issues such as child support, custody, parental rights and visitation.

Why Should Either Parent Establish Paternity?
A father should seek paternity if they wish to establish a parenting relationship with their child. Establishing paternity of a father and child relationship may also entitle a child to receive financial support via child support and entitles the child to receive assistance with medical and insurance expenses. Lastly, establishing paternity may also entitle a child for certain benefits and services; such as, social security benefits and health benefits through an employer. If paternity is established then the father may be able to seek legitimation of the paternity and in turn receive visitation and custody via court order. Ultimately, establishing paternity can allow for fathers to share in the responsibilities of parenthood and provide in the responsibility for their child’s care, upbringing, and wellbeing.

If you wish to seek custody and or visitation during a legitimation preceding then you should consult an attorney to discuss your case and possible outcomes. If possible it will be necessary to hire an attorney to represent you in your legitimation and custody case and said attorney should have experience in family law and be familiar with the process of legitimation. If it is not possible to hire an attorney you may seek legal assistance in the paternity and legitimation process through various state services via DCSS.

If you are facing a paternity / legitimation case – call us at 470-947-2471 to discuss your case with one our experienced family law attorneys.