Georgia law protects the rights of both parents to have a relationship with their child, even when they no longer have a relationship with one another. However, unmarried fathers must take legal steps to claim their parental rights.

Preserve your ability to care for your child as he or she grows by establishing paternity and visitation with the Georgia family court system.

Establishing legal paternity

When unmarried parents have a child together, only the mother automatically has legal rights to custody and visitation even if the father’s name is on the birth certificate. For the father to claim parental rights, both parents must sign a legitimation of action form. If the mother does not agree to sign, the father can file a legitimation action in court.

Filing a legitimation action

You must file a legitimation action in the Georgia county where the child’s mother lives. Your petition can ask the court to establish paternity, custody, parenting time and/or visitation rights. If the court determines that you are the father, you will also be responsible for child support. A child support order does not automatically establish custody or visitation.

Negotiating a parenting plan

After you file a petition, the court will schedule a hearing and notify the child’s mother. When both parents agree on a parenting plan with details about custody, visitation and parenting time, they can submit it to the court and it becomes legally binding. When you and the child’s mother do not agree, you can each submit your own parenting plan and the judge will create a parenting plan based on the child’s best interests.

In general, both parents have the right to shared legal custody. This describes the ability to make important decisions about the child’s education, religion, health care and other key elements of his or her upbringing. Physical custody refers to where the child lives most of the time. Parents can share physical custody, or one can have sole physical custody while the other has court-ordered visitation.