I’m Going to be a Dad, Now What?

So, you want to be responsible and not just support your child, but also be involved in your child’s life?  Many times, unmarried couples make informal agreements between themselves to “work things out.”  But Georgia law requires a formal step before there is a legal relationship between father and child.   It’s oftentimes not enough to just pay child support.   Even if the father of a child born outside of marriage dutifully pays child support, his rights to visit his child may be limited if there has been no “legitimation” of the father’s paternity.

What is “Legitimation”?

Legitimation is a legal action which is the only way, other than by marrying the mother of a child, that the father of a child born in the State of Georgia may establish legal rights to his child.  An order of legitimation establishes that the child may inherit from this legal father and vice versa.

I Signed a Form Acknowledging Paternity

It is a mistake of either parent to assume that if the father’s name appears on the birth certificate any legal obligations or rights to the child exist.   Often, parents confuse the Acknowledgment of Paternity with the formal process of legitimation.  Fathers can administratively acknowledge their biological relationship with the child by signing the Acknowledgment of Paternity.   The Paternity Acknowledgment Form (Vital Records Form 3940) may be completed at the hospital at the time of the birth of a child or later at the Georgia State Office of Vital Records, but before the child’s first birthday.   This process does not, however, create a legal relationship between the father and child.  You must go through a formal action to legitimate the child.

What is the Difference Between Paternity and Legitimation?

Only the father of a child may file a petition seeking to legitimate his child.  When a mother seeks to establish the legal relationship between a father and a child, she brings a paternity action.  In either case, the parent must prove to the court that the man is the biological father of the child.  If you are already listed on the child’s birth certificate as the father, but you and the child’s mother were not married to each other, you must still file a petition with the court to legitimate your child.

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