Karla Walker Attorney at Law
One of the most frequent issues that I encounter in practice is the unresolved issues of visitation and custodial decisions from men who have a child that was born outside of marriage. This issue becomes a war between father and mother with many assumptions about the reason the mother will not allow visitation that only results in lost time with the minor child. It strains the relationship in many cases to the point that I often hear that the child will understand when they reach the age of 18.
I am a firm believer that the attitude should be to get past the emotions and frustration and know your rights as a father. Georgia is a state that does not give the father an automatic entry in to visitation simply because the father proudly declares that he is the father. In Georgia, the old saying “mama’s baby and daddy’s maybe” takes shape in that the mother has the ultimate authority in all decisions regarding the minor child until such time as the child is legitimated.
Keep in mind that paternity and legitimation is not the same thing. I often hear the father state that he signed the birth certificate and pays child support so he has a right to see the child. Not necessarily true in Georgia. Paternity in Georgia establishes the biological connection to the child but legitimation establishes the relationship between father and child.
Some form of legitimation is necessary to pursue a relationship through visitation and if desired custodial rights.
Legitimation in Georgia may be accomplished through two means in Georgia.
1) Mother and father can consent to legitimation at the time of birth or before the child’s first birthday by completing the acknowledgement of legitimation section at the bottom of the Paternity Acknowledgement Form. This form is typically completed at the time of birth of the child. I suggest that you handle this matter at that time if both parties are prepared to consent. As you might imagine, time and temperment may change depending on the
relationship or lack of relationship after the birth of the child. Keep in mind that this section alone establishes paternity and just a mere signature on the paternity acknowledgement form is not enough.
2) If you have not completed this section and many parents do not complete this section , hope is not lost. The next step is to hire an attorney to file a Petition to Legitimate or find a website that has Georgia forms to start this process. The
Petition should be filed in the county of the child’s mother or the party that may have legal guardianship of the child.
I suggest that you file the Petition to Legitimate and Petition for Vistitation and/or Custody in the same petition to save money and time. It has been my experience that the biological mother rarely objects to legitimation. In fact, I encourage biological mothers to consent unless there is a strong,valid reason to object. There are reasons but it is not raised often.
Initiating this process is very helpful with obtaining the ultimate goal of visitation. Often the parents are able to consent to a visitation schedule that both parties can live with. This consent becomes an ENFORCEABLE COURT ORDER. This is important because the other party will be obligated to follow this court order. If the order is not followed, the father has the right to file a Motion for Contempt (motion that says the party is not following the order and appropriate action should be taken by the court). The court frequently awards attorney’s fees to those that have to pursue such issues in Court.
Stop waiting and pursue relationship with your children. A good resource that plainly lays out the process is Establishing Paternity and Legitimation under Georgia Law www.dhr.georgia.gov
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