Legitimation is the process by which unwed fathers establish a legal relationship with their child. It is much more significant than the establishment of paternity, which is simply the legal identification of the biological father of the child. Legitimation enables fathers to seek visitation and custody. Unless they legitimate their children, unwed fathers have no custody or visitation rights, even if they are required to pay child support. Legitimation also enables children born out of wedlock to inherit and receive certain benefits from their father. In Georgia, prior to July 1, 2016, unwed fathers had the option of legitimating their children administratively, or without court involvement. Unwed fathers who were present for the birth of their child would often be provided by hospital staff with an Acknowledgment of Paternity Form that included an Acknowledgment of Legitimation section. The form had to be consented to and executed by both parents and filed with the Georgia State Office of Vital Records prior to the child’s first birthday. Although many unwed fathers in Georgia were able to legitimate administratively over the years, the process was not without its flaws. A major issue with the administrative legitimation process was that it did not provide fathers who legitimated with any custody or visitation rights, arguably the sole reason most fathers choose to legitimate to begin with. Unwed fathers who administratively legitimated would often still end up having to petition the court to seek custodial and visitation rights, thus defeating the purpose of an administrative or non-judicial procedure. Therefore, in July 2016, Georgia’s administrative legitimation law was repealed. Currently, there are only (2) ways that unwed fathers can legitimate their children: (1) subsequent marriage to the child’s mother and (2) filing a petition for legitimation with the court. It should be noted, however, that the repeal is not retroactive, meaning that an acknowledgment of legitimation that was valid under the former law is still valid as long as it was executed prior to June 30, 2016. If you have questions about legitimation, custody, or visitation rights, contact an experienced divorce/family law attorney at The Faucette Law Firm (770) 485-6620.


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