Georgia custody laws do apply to unmarried parents, and married parents, alike. When a couple legally marries and has a child together, there is an automatic declaration that the husband is automatically is the child’s father. However, if a child’s parents never married, there can be unique custody issues. The main legal issue is determining paternity. In Georgia, until a father has established paternity, he won’t be able to seek custody of a child.
Married parents have equal rights in the custody of their children. Different laws apply to unmarried parents. Until a child’s father establishes paternity, the natural mother has sole custody in the case of a child born out of wedlock.
How to Establish Paternity
A father must establish paternity before he can seek custody of the child. The male claiming paternity can bring an action to establish paternity, as can the natural mother of the child. There are two ways to establish paternity.
Both parents sign an “Acknowledgement of Paternity,” which states that both parents agree that the male is the child’s legal father. The form must hae the signatures at the hospital from both mother and father when the child is born or later at the State or County Office of Vital Records.
Another method of establishing paternity is for the mother, father, or agent from Child Support Services to file a paternity action in court.
This method is often pursued when the mother or DCSS seeks to make the alleged father responsible for the child’s financial support. The male alleged to be the father can choose to acknowledge paternity or contest paternity. If he neither acknowledges nor denies, he may become the father by default.
A father can also file a paternity action to obtain custody of a child or visitation rights with the child.
In either case, the court will likely order genetic testing to determine the paternity of the child. Refusal to take the genetic test can evidence of paternity.
Rights and Responsibilities of Paternity
Paternity comes with rights and responsibilities. A father can petition the court for visiting or custody rights but may need to support them financially.
Georgia Custody After Paternity has been determined
Once paternity is established, both parents are equal in the eyes of the law. Neither the father nor the mother will receive any preference, and the court will award custody in the child’s best interests.
The court looks at several factors in determining custody of the child. Either parent may receive sole custody, or the court can choose to give each parent joint custody.
If you are an unmarried parent, be sure you understand how this determination could affect a potential custody dispute. Consult a Georgia family law attorney before you take any legal actions that could have unintended consequences.