We commonly see situations where a father, that isn’t married to the mother of their child, calls our office anxious or frustrated because the mother of their child is moving, has told them to stay away, or anything else that is keeping the father from seeing their child. They are further frustrated that it appears that no one can or will help them see their child and maintain that Father to child relationship. It can be easy to feel like your arms are tied behind your back and the system is not fair. That is a very understandable feeling as you have formed a fatherly bond with your child and then the mother on a whim can disrupt that bond. You rightfully feel this way because you should have the same rights as the mother as you are both parents, but you as the Father have to first “claim” those rights as the Father.
The dangers of not having your Father’s Rights set up. First, if something were to happen to the mother like a car accident or illness for example and she were to die, you may not be contacted to care for your child. Instead it may be a grandparent, aunt/uncle, or some other relative of the Mother that begins caring for your child. Second, even if you and the Mother get along well right now, it only takes one major disagreement or fight and she takes off with your child and now you have to wait on the Court process to be carried out to see your child again. Third, if something were to happen to you, your child may not be treated as your child and be able to inherit or collect benefits from you.
The State of Georgia has laws, like many if not all states, that say a father is not presumed to be the father of a child if they are not married to the mother. The only presumed legal and physical parent is the mother because the child came from her womb. The Father claims his rights as the legal and physical parent by either being married to the mother or by petitioning the Court to claim and be granted his Father’s Rights. This Petition is called a “Petition for Legitimation”. Once the Court reviews the Petition, the facts, and evidence of the case then the Court orders that the Father is the legal father of the child and capable of inheriting from the father just as if the mother and father were married. So basically rights are granted to the Father just as they naturally would have been granted if the mother and father had been married. That Order granted by the Court can now be used to show anyone that needs to see it and can be used to change or add the father’s name to the Birth Certificate if needed.
If the Father files a Petition to claim his Father’s Rights, he has to ‘serve’ the Petition upon the Mother (or any other party who has custody). The Mother (or custodial party) then has 30 days to object to the Father’s Petition to claim Father’s Rights. She can object that he is the biological father. If so, the Court will order a Paternity Test to see if that is true or not. The Mother can also object to the Petition to claim Father’s Rights based on a large amount time having passed and the Father hadn’t been involved with the child and knew about the child. There is no exact number as to how long is too long for a Father to be away, but we typically see 5-6 years being a starting point to have a chance with this argument, give or take a few years. Finally, the Mother can object to how the custody arrangement is set between the parents and child going forward.
The Father’s Rights consist of being the legal parent of the child, having a right to parenting time with the child based on the situation, and being able to receive or pay child support depending on the custody situation.
As you can imagine it is very helpful to have an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney to help make sure your best Father’s Rights are established that will allow you to maintain your best relationship as a Father with your child.