When a married couple has a child, the parents have shared automatic legal rights and responsibilities in relation to that child that come into play if they later get a divorce. In some states, however, if the parents are unmarried, the mother will automatically gain sole custody, and the father must follow complicated steps toward establishing a legal relationship to the child before he can seek custody or visitation rights.
Custody laws for unwed fathers in Georgia
In Georgia, in order for the unwed father to gain legal rights to his biological child, he must first establish paternity. This can be a simple process through a voluntary acknowledgement that will allow the father’s name to appear on the birth certificate, either in the hospital right after the child’s birth or at a later time. Other ways of establishing paternity can be with genetic testing or through a filing of a petition to establish paternity with the Georgia courts.
However, the only way a father living in Georgia can gain parenting time, custody or visitation rights is through a legitimation process. This is a court action that must be filed in the county where the mother resides. The mother may legally challenge legitimation by questioning the father’s paternity or on the grounds that he has lost his opportunity to develop a parental relationship with the child.
Georgia’s equitable childcare law
With the recent passage of Georgia’s equitable childcare law, unwed fathers may now face even more competition for custody rights from non-biological caregivers. Under the new law, stepparents, grandparents, same-sex partners or family friends may petition the court for equitable caregiver status.
In order to qualify for this status, an adult must show that they have an existing caretaking role in which they have established a bonded and dependent relationship with the child, and that they accept full and permanent responsibilities for the future care of the child without any expectation of financial reward.
As with any determination on custody, visitation rights or parenting time, the courts will look at what is in the best interest of the child. Some of these factors taken into account include the parental bond, the parent’s commitment and ability to continue caring for the child and provide basic needs as well as medical, nurturing and educational support, as well as mental, physical and financial well-being of the parent.
When fighting for the right to have a role in your child’s life, it can be helpful to have compassionate legal assistance to guide you through this sometimes confusing and complicated legal process.