One aspect of family law involves determining the paternity of a child. Having an experienced paternity attorney on your side for such a sensitive legal proceeding that will affect both you and your child’s life forever is important. Establishing paternity is also known as legitimization and it is crucial for your child. It provides a child with both financial and emotional benefits including the rights and privileges of a child whose parents are married. Paternity also allows for child support, visitation, and custody to be determined.

In Georgia, a child is legitimate if born into a marriage or if the parents marry shortly after birth. If this is not the case, the only legitimate parent of the child is the mother, leaving the father with no rights or responsibilities. Legitimation is the process by which a father can establish his legal rights to a child, and which will allow him visitation and/or custody. A paternity suit is when an unmarried mother sues to declare the father of her child. A legitimation suit occurs when a father brings suit against the mother to declare he is the father.

Determining Paternity Under Georgia Law

A paternity action is a civil action where the parties are not entitled to a trial by jury. The action must be brought in the county where the father resides unless he does not live in Georgia, which will then put the action in the county where the child resides. Under Georgia law, the parties that have legal standing to file a Georgia paternity action are:

  • The child
  • The mother of the child
  • Any relative in whose care the child has been placed
  • The Department of Human Services
  • The alleged father

The natural mother must be made a party or given proper notice of the proceedings if she is not the one that initiated them. The child must be a party to any settlement with the father. The court can also appoint a guardian ad litem to represent a minor child who is the subject of a paternity action; this person cannot be either the child’s mother or father.

Georgia Law Recognizes Many Types of “Fathers”

Under Georgia law, a father can take several different and distinct forms:

  1. Biological Father: A man who impregnated the child’s mother resulting in the child’s birth
  2. Legal Father: A person who adopted the child, married the mother after the child was born and recognized the child as his own, and/or legitimated the child
  3. Presumed Father: The man who was married to the mother at the time the child was born
  4. Putative Father: A man considered to be the father or who has the reputation for being the father

If a father fails to answer a paternity complaint within the appropriate timeframe, the case is in default. After 15 days post-default, the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict and judgment by default. A defendant is estopped from denying paternity and is required to pay child support even if a DNA test proves he is not the biological father if he listed himself as the child’s father on the birth certificate, gave the child his last name, and held himself out as the child’s father and supported the child for over ten years.

In any case where paternity of the child has not been established, any party may move the court to order – or the Department of Human Services can order – the mother, the alleged father, and the child to submit to genetic testing. These tests must be conducted by a laboratory certified by the American Association of Blood Banks, now called the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies. If the father is missing or deceased, there are several testing options – such as testing alternative family members – available to determine the true biological father.

The father’s name or Social Security number being entered with his consent on the birth certificate or other such records constitutes a prima facie case of establishment of paternity. Once this evidence is proven up in court, the burden of proof shifts to the putative father to rebut the presumption of paternity in a paternity proceeding.

Once a court determines paternity, it will either issue an order designating the father as the father of the child or it will issue an order declaring the alleged father is not the child’s father. The court order establishes the duty of the father to support his child and may also contain details about visitation and other rights and issues that affect the interests of the child.

Voluntary Declaration of Paternity

Georgia has a system wherein a father can voluntarily acknowledge paternity. In a hospital after a live birth, if the following items are true, it creates a strong presumption that he is the child’s father:

  1. He and the mother are married to each other
  2. He is named as the child’s father on the birth certificate (with his consent)
  3. There is a written court order that he is the father or a court order to pay child support
  4. The child is received into his home and he holds out the child as his natural son or daughter

How To Obtain Child Support from Your Child’s Father

Proving the man you believe to be your child’s father is in fact the biological father as soon as possible makes collecting child support easier. In fact, many women start the process to establish paternity when they are still pregnant so that they can pursue the case as soon as possible after the child is born. Once paternity is legally established, a Georgia superior court judge can issue orders for child support payments, health insurance, child custody, visitation, and more. None of these orders can be issued without a formal and definitive determination of paternity.

Even if your child’s father leaves the state, you can still force him to take a paternity test and pay child support.

What About Paternity in An LGBT Family?

Gay and transgender people can become parents in a variety of ways, including adoption, fertility, surrogacy, and previous heterosexual relationships. LGBT families deserve the same protections that other families receive. Georgia’s Equitable Care Act allows non-biological caregivers to fight for custody, provided they prove they have played a large role in a child’s caregiving and upbringing. To qualify as an equitable caregiver, you must have:

  • Taken care of the child in a permanent manner, acting as a parent
  • Maintained your parental role consistently
  • Provided consistent care without expecting financial compensation
  • Established a bond with the child
  • Had the child depend on you such that they would have a difficult time adjusting if you were no longer their caregiver
  • One of the child’s biological parents acknowledge your caregiving and let you behave as a parent

A transgender parent who does not have a biological relationship to a child needs to secure a parentage judgment or complete the adoption process soon after the child’s birth. If your partner is your child’s biological parent but you are not, you can pursue a second-parent adoption to help ensure an ongoing relationship with your child. Because, when there is no presumption of parentage, you cannot seek out and obtain visitation, custody, or child support.

What Are Your Legal Rights Once Paternity Is Established?

In Georgia, there is no time limitation under the law within which paternity must be determined. Once paternity is established, a father can be added to their child’s birth certificate and will also be held financially responsible for child support. Even if a man is listed as the father on a birth certificate and pays child support, without a formal adjudication of parentage, he cannot obtain custody and visitation rights. Legitimation helps a father claim parentage of a child born out of wedlock, which gives the child the following rights:

  • The child and the father can inherit from each other
  • The child can obtain medical information from their father
  • The father can petition the court for custody or visitation

Georgia Paternity Attorney

Challenging paternity and/or establishing paternity requires working with an experienced Georgia paternity attorney, as these cases can are complex. A paternity or legitimation action can become even more difficult if a significant amount of time has passed since a child was born. The Law Office of Chanel Payne can help fathers establish their rights by guiding them through the legal process and representing them in court. We also help mothers file legal actions to establish the paternity of the biological fathers of their children. For more information about establishing paternity or legitimation, contact a Georgia paternity attorney today.