When a couple legally marries and has a child together, the husband is automatically declared the child’s father. However, when a child’s parents have never been 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 the child’s paternity has been established, the natural mother has sole custody in the case of a child born out of wedlock.
How to Establish Paternity
A father is required to 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 be signed at the hospital by 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 be determined to be 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 be used as 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.
Custody After Paternity has been determined
Once paternity has been established, both parents are on equal footing before the court. Neither the father nor the mother will be given any preference, and the court will award custody based on the child’s best interests.
The court looks at several factors in determining custody of the child. Either parent may be awarded 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.
Contact Tyler Moffitt’s family law office today for a free consultation with an experienced Georgia family law attorney.
Tyler Moffitt is a Family Law and Criminal Defense Attorney who practices Carrollton, LaGrange, and Columbus, GA. He graduated from John Marshall Law School, and has been practicing for several years now. Tyler Moffitt takes great honor in defending the accused. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.