Paternity and Legitimation: You are the Father! (Maybe?)

Dad with son

One of the more common cases nowadays in family law or domestic relations law is a paternity case or legitimation case.  This is where usually a mother, but sometimes a father desires to set parental rights and responsibilities for the father of her child and have the father declared by the court to be the legal and biological father or the father himself desires to be declared the legal and biological father of the child.

The most common scenario is two love birds come together and have a child together out of wedlock.  Then as the expenses begin to mount for the mother she desires to have the father involved in the child’s life both physically through visitation time and financially through child support.  The father sometimes will simply consent to this on his own or by the mother’s request and begin treating the child as his own and paying his share of the child’s expenses.  However, even if the father has stepped up and is acting like the father physically and financially the law of the land does not recognize him as such until he has been declared by the Court to be the father.  The birthrate for unmarried women has been steadily climbing in the U.S. from the late 70s and 80s to now, making these types of cases all the more common.  Births to unmarried women totaled 1,714,643 in the U.S. in 2007, 26% more than in 2002. Nearly 4 in 10 U.S. births were to unmarried women in 2007.  Most births to teenagers (86% in 2007) were nonmarital, but 60% of births to women age 20–24 and nearly one-third of births to women age 25–29 were nonmarital in 2007.  In 2012, the percentage of births to unmarried women has mostly unchanged still at 40.7%, with the number of nonmarital births at 1,609,619.

Why Does This Matter?

The need to set paternity and legitimize the father can be shown by the father not being named on the birth certificate and then when the child starts school the school will not allow the father certain parental privileges, same thing if the child is ever hospitalized sometimes.  Also the child may not inherit anything from the father if the father were to die and leave property or money for heirs.  Even if the father is named on the birth certificate, if the father is not married to the mother he may still need to be legitimated to have full standing as the child’s father with the schools, hospitals, government entities, and inheritance.

The other importance are for those Maury Povich moments when a father does not think he is the biological father and declines to enter the child’s life and pay child support to the mother.  Then the mother uses Legitimation and Paternity to prove through the Courts that he is the father and then must pay child support at least and should be involved with the child’s life as the father.  Or some make out like this guy —>  (Maury Povich on his own is not good enough either. “You ARE NOT the FATHER!!!”)

What is the Process to Set Paternity or Legitimate?

If the father consents to the paternity and legitimation the process can take only a month or so.  A lawyer draws up Legitimation documents and the father signs and the mother signs both consenting to the legitimation.  A paternity test is optional in Georgia if both parties are consenting to the Paternity and Legitimation case.  Once the case is filed (usually for around $205 in most counties in Georgia) with the Superior Court of the county of the defendant named in your case, the case will wait for 30 days to see if anyone objects to the case and contests it.  Finally if there is no objection or contest to the case the judge will sign an Order declaring the father the legal and biological father of the child and the child capable of inheriting from the father.  It is important to note that you can also order the child’s name changed if necessary at the same time to match the father’s last name if the father and mother would like to do so.

If the father does not consent to the paternity and legitimation action the process can take a little longer.  The mother would file the Legitimation Court documents in the county where the father lives, since he is the defendant.  If the father needs to be served there will be a fee (usually around $50) to have the sheriff serve the father with the court papers and he will have 30 days to respond.  The father can answer and say he does not think he is the father and at that point a DNA paternity test is done and the results set up a much less dramatic Maury Povich moment. The father can request his own DNA paternity test if he feels the test or facility was not proper. After the hearing if the DNA test(s) are positive, the judge will then order the father to begin paying child support and be entitled to visitation and/or custody of the child as its parent.

Once you have your signed Order from the judge in your case you get a certified true court copy of the order and have it recorded at the Vital Records Office (Birth Certificate Office).  Sometimes your Superior Court Clerk will have already done this for you to amend the birth certificate to add the father if necessary and change the name of the child on the birth certificate if requested.  Then a new Birth Certificate is ordered for around $25.  The last stop is the Social Security Office in your county where the name change can be recorded there and new Social Security Cards can be issued for your child with the new name if it was done.  Copies of all these documents should be kept in a safe and secure place.

If you have any further questions about Paternity or Legitimation, as always, please feel free to Contact our office and discuss your case.  We look forward to helping you.

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