Visitation and custody for non-married Georgia fathers
Non-married fathers can request visitation or custody in Georgia after paternity has been established.
More and more couples are choosing to either not marry or delay marrying until after their children have been born. While these parents are well within their rights to define their own family dynamics, there are a few possible downsides to being unmarried when it comes to custody and visitation.
For married couples, paternity is easily established: the husband of the mother is presumed to be the biological and legal father of the children if they are born during the marriage or within nine months of it ending. When the child’s mother and father aren’t wed, however, it can be more difficult to determine legal parentage. The father has the option to voluntarily accept paternity by either signing the child’s birth documentation at the hospital or by submitting a Paternity Acknowledgement Form (obtained at a local vital records office) at a later time.
If either parent contests a putative father’s paternity, then a court order may be necessary to name the child’s legal father. These often coincide with child support claims, and will require DNA testing to determine whether or not the man is the father. DNA testing can be done at a Georgia state-run lab or at a private, accredited facility.
Until paternity has been officially established, either voluntarily or not, the father is not legally obligated to make child support payments, but he also has no right of access to the child. This means that the court cannot force a mother to allow visitation, nor will the court entertain a presumptive father’s petition for custody unless he has “legitimated” the child. See Georgia Code Section 19-7-22 for more information.
Once the child has been “legitimated” (i.e., paternity has been established), then any custody or visitation claims by the child’s father can proceed in the same manner that they would during any other disputed legal action, such as that during a divorce. The family court judge will weigh the best interests of the child and determine what level of access to each parent is appropriate. Historically, custody laws have favored the mother, but times are changing. Nowadays, a father cannot be denied visitation with or custody of his child simply based on his gender.
Even though there are no longer maternal presumptions written into Georgia’s laws regarding custody and visitation, particularly where unmarried couples are concerned, fathers do face an uphill battle in many ways. If you are a non-married dad wishing to maintain a relationship with your child, you need to move quickly to establish parentage and formally request visitation or custody. You’ll need to make a compelling argument and ensure that the court understands it is in your child’s best interest to have parenting time with you.
For help presenting your case to the family court, and for fighting to access to your child, you should have a skilled family law attorney at your side. In the Augusta area, call on the Law Offices of Cara Sprouse Rowe for all your family law needs.