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Legitimation

What is Legitimation?

In Georgia, if a child is born out of wedlock, the father must file a legitimation action to legally establish a relationship with his child. Even if the father's name is on the birth certificate, a legitimation action will be necessary if the child was born out of wedlock. It is highly recommended that fathers in this situation seek to file a legitimation action or they may forgo their rights as a father. This often includes custody/visitation and decision making abilities for the father. Once a child is legitimated, the father's rights to his child are legally recognized.

How do I Legitimate My Child? 

1

File The Legitimation Petition

2

Court Hearing

3

Best Interests of the Child

Filing the legitimation petition.
File The Legitimation Petition

Sometimes the parties will agree to the terms of the legitimation beforehand and submit their agreement to the court. If the parties do not agree to legitimation or if the father is unsure whether the mother may consent, the father may file a Petition for Legitimation with the court in the county where the mother and child reside.

A legitimation court hearing.
Court Hearing

Once a father files the legitimation petition and initiates an action for legitimation, the court presiding over the matter will hear evidence by both parties to determine whether legitimation is appropriate.

Judge deciding a legitimation case
Best Interests of the Child

A court evaluates whether legitimation is appropriate by determining whether the father may be a fit parent or whether legitimation will be in the best interest of the child involved.

Before Legitimation, Mother has Exclusive Custody 

In Georgia, when a child is born out of wedlock, the mother has exclusive custody rights. This is why legitimation is critically important for fathers. Prior to legitimation, the mother is entitled to custody of the child, exclusive of the father, and she may exercise all parental authority concerning decisions affecting the child. Essentially, before a father legitimates his child, he has no legally recognized relationship with the child, and he may not legally make decisions on behalf of the child, obtain custody or exercise visitation.

Legitimate in a Timely Manner

If you are a father seeking to legally establish your relationship with your child or children, it is important that you do so in a timely manner. If you delay in legitimating your child or children and a court subsequently determines that this delay was unreasonable, the court may find that that you have abandoned your opportunity to develop a relationship with your child. If a court makes this finding, it may deny your petition for legitimation. In some circumstances, a delay of over a year could be deemed by a court as unreasonable.

What is the Legal Effect of Legitimation? 

If a father legitimates his child born out of wedlock, he will become the child's legally recognized father. This has several implications. The court will establish the father's rights to custody and visitation of the child. Similarly, the court may also enter a child support order at this time. Additionally, the father and the child will be able to inherit from each other and the child may take the father's last name.

Additional Resources

Feel free to read more about related topics. You've got questions, Meriwether & Tharp is here with the answers you need. 
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