How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity in Georgia?

When a child is born to parents in Georgia who are married, the courts automatically presume the man in the relationship is not only the child’s biological father, but also his legal father thus establishing his legal parental rights to the child.

Unfortunately, the state does not provide the same assumptions to fathers who are unmarried. Unmarried fathers must pursue legitimation to gain legal rights to their child.

Paternity vs. Legitimation: What Is the Difference?

sleeping newborn baby on male hands

The act of establishing paternity and the act of seeking legitimation are often confused with one another, but there are clear differences between the two.

Establishing Paternity

Establishing paternity is simply proving that a man is the biological father of the child in question.

There are several ways to establish paternity in Georgia, which include:

  • Presumption – As mentioned, married men are automatically deemed the legal father once the child is born.
  • Signing the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement Form – Upon the child’s birth or within the first year of the child’s life, the father can sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Form, establishing himself as the child’s biological father. Signing does not establish any legal rights, but it does allow the signee to be recognized as the child’s biological father.
  • Court Order – If presumption does not apply and the father does not sign the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement Form, either the mother or the father can file a paternity action with the court to establish paternity. Court orders involve DNA testing to prove that the man is the biological father.

Why Establish Paternity?

For the mother, establishing paternity allows her to pursue child support from the biological father. In fact, seeking child support is one of the most common reasons parents file paternity actions in Georgia. Raising a child is a challenging, expensive task, and without established paternity, the mother alone bears the financial burden of raising her child. By establishing paternity and pursuing child support from the father, both parents will contribute to the child’s upbringing.

For the father, establishing paternity is the first step to pursuing legitimation and establishing himself as the legal father. If a man is not legally viewed as the child’s biological father, he cannot legally pursue rights to visitation or custody.

Pursuing Legitimation

Pursuing legitimation is how an unmarried father can establish himself as the child’s legal father and gain paternal rights to the child, including rights to custody and visitation. It also allows the father to ensure the child receives rights to an inheritance following the father’s death.

Only biological fathers may pursue legitimation, which is why establishing paternity is a crucial first step to obtaining a legitimation order.

Biological Father vs. Legal Father

A biological father is the one who fathered the child. A man in Georgia can be seen as the biological father in the eyes of the law but that does not automatically grant him any parental rights. It only establishes his responsibility to support the child financially.

A legal father is one who has legal paternal rights to the child and can be granted custodial rights and parenting time. Most legal fathers are also biological fathers, but they can be stepfathers or adoptive fathers, as well. Fathers can gain legal rights to a child by:

  • Being married to the mother at the time of the child’s conception or birth.
  • Marrying his child’s mother following birth and acknowledging the child as his own.
  • Obtaining a legitimation order.
  • Adopting the child.

How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity in Georgia?

There is no clear deadline or time limit to establishing paternity in Georgia. However, the methods by which you establish paternity may come with deadlines.

The Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement Form can be signed at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth, or it can be signed and filed with the State Office of Vital Records in Atlanta or with the Vital Records Office of the county where the child was born up to a year after the birth.

Establishing paternity with the court can occur at any time, even if the child is no longer a minor.

Georgia’s paternity and legitimation laws can be tricky to understand. When you need help establishing paternity or seeking legitimation in Atlanta, rely on Platt Family Law.

Our all-female team of family law attorneys can help you gain rights as a father by establishing paternity and pursuing a legitimation order. Georgia’s parental laws are not easy to navigate, but our experienced lawyers have the expertise and experience to help you establish your parental rights. Schedule a consultation with our firm today to discuss your child support details and how we can help serve you. 404-255-3434

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