As Georgia divorce attorneys who help clients with domestic relations matters ranging from uncontested divorces and separate maintenance actions to matters involving child support and child custody, such as paternity and legitimation actions, we are often asked: “What’s the difference between Legitimation and Paternity is Georgia?”
Georgia courts have long made it clear that paternity and legitimation are two distinct legal concepts in Georgia. In fact, the Georgia Court of Appeals makes this point explicitly in its decision in Ghrist v. Fricks et al., 219 Ga. App. 415 (1995). In that decision the court stated that “paternity and legitimation are not the same thing. Biology is not destiny, and a man has no absolute right to the grant of his petition to legitimate a child simply because he is the biological father. Instead we have held time and time again that the court must consider the best interest and welfare of the child before granting a legitimation petition, and that it is not bound by the desires and contentions of the biological parents.” Id.
Put another way, paternity is based on biology in Georgia. Once a man is determined to be the biological father of a child, paternity may be established. With the establishment of paternity also comes the establishment of a father’s financial obligation to the minor child. On the other hand, legitimation is not based on biology alone. In fact, a man may be deemed the biological father of a child, by virtue of a paternity judgment, without being granted any legal child custody or visitation rights. This is so because in Georgia, a father must legitimize his child in order to establish a legal relationship with his child. Only once this legal relationship is established will a father be granted visitation and child custody rights. In essence, paternity equals child support, and legitimation equals child custody and parenting time.