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What are my rights as an unmarried father?

If you had a baby out of wedlock with a woman and were not married, you may be wondering what rights you have to the child. Even if you are listed on the child's birth certificate and pay child support, you may not be a legally established father. Why is this?

In Georgia, only the mother has custody of children born outside of marriage. If you want joint physical or legal custody with visitation rights, you will have to file a legitimation action in court.  

What does a legitimation action accomplish? It results in the father being legally recognized as the parent and grants the child inheritance rights. When this action is filed, you can also ask the court to grant you visitation and custody. If your name is not on the birth certificate, it will be added, and it also grants the child the right to receive Social Security benefits from you. However, only a biological father can file a legitimation action.

Different types of custody

There are two types of custody: physical and legal custody. Physical custody is when the parent has the responsibility of physically caring for a child and providing supervision of him or her on a day to day basis. The parent the child lives with the majority of the time usually has full physical custody. Legal custody is the parent's authority to make major life decisions for the child, and includes medical and dental care, school choice, and religious upbringing. A parent with sole legal custody has the authority to make such decisions about the child's life and upbringing alone, and may legally exclude the other parent.

Children need the love and support of both parents in their lives. If you are the father of a child born out of wedlock, it is important to establish legal parentage. Because family law issues can easily become complicated, you should seek legal advice and have an experienced lawyer help you complete the legitimation process. Your attorney may identify issues you never thought of before, and will help you prepare for any hearings you may attend.


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