Georgia Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Parents of a child born out of wedlock often face complicated rules and standards when establishing the rights and responsibilities they each have with respect to their child. When a child is born to unmarried parents in Georgia, for example, the law declares the mother to have sole custody. It is only once the father establishes a legal relationship to the child that he is allowed custody or visitation rights. This article briefly explains the child custody laws for unmarried parents in Georgia.

Difference between Paternity and Legitimation

In Georgia, paternity doesn't give an unmarried father visitation or custody rights to his child. Georgia law differentiates between paternity, (establishing the identity of the child's biological father) and legitimation, which establishes a legal relationship between father and child. A father can receive legitimation at the same time or after paternity is established, but only legitimation allows an unmarried father to seek custody or visitation.

If paternity is established, the father can be added to a child's birth certificate (if not already listed) and held financially responsible for child support. Though he might be listed on the birth certificate and pay child support, an unmarried father still lacks standing to receive custody and visitation rights.

Establishing Paternity

Determining paternity is fairly simple, as the father's voluntary appearance on the child's birth certificate creates a presumption of paternity. Genetic testing may also establish paternity. A petition to establish paternity can be filed with Georgia courts.

Fathers also may administratively acknowledge paternity through a Paternity Acknowledgement Form, which adds the father's name to the child's birth certificate and creates the same financial responsibility as a paternity finding by a court.

Legitimation

Only the biological father may file a legitimation action and must do so in the mother's county of residence. In Georgia, this action may also include claims for:

The mother may challenge legitimation by stating the alleged father is not the child's biological father or has lost his opportunity to develop a relationship with the child. However, if the court does not find these allegations to be true, it will issue an order declaring the father/child relationship legitimate.

Georgia Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents at a Glance

Though looking at a law's original statutory form can be informative, understanding the law's meaning is often easier when it's spelled out in plain English. This chart provides you with a Georgia custody law overview for unmarried parents.

Statute

Official Code of Georgia Annotated, Section 19-7-22 (Petition for Legitimation of Child)

General Rule

An unmarried biological father may petition to legitimize his relationship with a child. If the court determines it to be in the child's best interests, it may declare the relationship legitimate.

Legitimation Petition Requirements

A legitimation petition must include:

  • The child's name, age, and sex;
  • The mother's name; and
  • Any name change the petitioner desires for the child.

The mother (if alive) must be named as a party, served, and given a chance to be heard. The same is true for any legal father who is not the child's biological father.

Related Statutes

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Georgia Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents: Related Resources

Get Legal Help with Child Custody in Georgia

Even with straightforward laws child custody can be a complicated, difficult issue. Georgia's levels of paternal rights make the situation even more challenging. If you have questions about the child custody process for unmarried parents, questions about paternity or legitimation, or need advice, speak to an experienced Georgia Child Custody Attorney today.

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