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Georgia Case Law Update – Baskin v. Hale

In this day and age, there are many different types of family units. Many times couples and children live together without ever getting married. Sometimes the children in these family units are the biological offspring of both adults living in the house and, other times, a child may only be the biological child of one adult or the other. In these situations, the adults and children often consider themselves to be one family unit, though not tied together legally, but this can cause issues if/when the adults split up.

In Baskin v. Hale, Baskin (the mother) and Hale (the father) lived together with their two sons and Baskin’s daughter from a previous relationship. Baskin v. Hale, A15A2232, June 15, 2016. The relationship between Baskin and Hale began when Baskin’s daughter was 10 months old and, as such, Hale essentially raised her as his own. The parties subsequently split up and entered into a consent order legitimating their joint son, and provided for joint legal custody of all children with the parties have nearly equal visitation time with the children. The consent order treated Baskin’s daughter the same as the other children, while acknowledging that Hale was not her biological daughter. Baskin subsequently filed a petition for modification of custody, seeking to terminate Hale’s custody and visitation rights as to her daughter. (The petition also sought to modify the visitation rights in regard to their sons but, for purposes of this blog, I am only going to address issues related to the daughter.) Following a Guardian ad Litem investigation and hearing, the Judge awarded the parties joint legal custody, with Hale being awarded primary physical custody of all three children. The court acknowledged that Hale was not the daughter’s biological father, but held that he “acquired parental status through the 2007 consent order.”

Baskin appealed, arguing that the court erred in awarding custody of her daughter to Hale. The Court of Appeals of Georgia agreed, pointing out that, since the daughter was born out of wedlock and had never been legitimated by her biological father, Baskin has full parental power over the child. In addition, Hale made no effort to terminate the biological father’s rights or to adopt her. As to Hale’s argument that the consent order essentially gave him parental rights, the Court strongly disagreed, as there was no “clear, definite, and unambiguous terms” indicating that she intended to do so and, by appealing the custody order here, she clearly has not given consent for him to have parental power. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed the custody order and directed the court to award custody of the daughter to Baskin.

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