Unlike most states in the US, Georgia law establishes two different levels of legal recognition of the relationship between a father and their child:

  • Paternity is the legal acknowledgment that a man is the biological father of their child. Establishing paternity determines that he has legal responsibilities regarding the child, specifically the legal obligation to support the child financially.
  • Legitimation is the legal acknowledgment that a man has a parental role and certain rights regarding the child, specifically rights of custody or visitation.

Neither paternity nor legitimacy is automatic when a child is born out of wedlock. If the paternity and legitimacy of the child are uncontested, establishing them at the child’s birth is a relatively simple process. However, establishing legitimacy later in the child’s life can be a more challenging process.

So, do you need a lawyer for a legitimation petition? Here are several reasons why having legal representation through the legitimation process is a good idea.

Father holding a sleeping toddler girl at home.

The Legitimation Claim Could Be Contested

This is the most extreme case in which failure to retain proper legal counsel could destroy your chances of a successful legitimation claim.

There are two main reasons for a legitimation claim to be contested:

  • The child’s mother can allege that the petitioner is not the child’s biological father. In this case, any party can ask the court to require the mother, child, and alleged father to undergo genetic testing to determine paternity.

Only a child’s biological father may make a legitimation claim, so any claim will be dismissed if the man is proven not to be the father.

  • The child’s mother may also claim that the father has lost his “opportunity interest to develop a relationship with the child.” In this case, the mother claims that the alleged father was given opportunities to be a part of the child’s life and failed to act on them.

In this case, the alleged father’s legal counsel will work to establish a case because the mother did not afford the alleged father these opportunities or other extenuating circumstances existed.

Regardless of the avenue taken by a mother contesting a legitimation claim, there will be multiple hearings, motions, and possibly a trial before the matter is settled, and you will need to have solid legal representation to ensure that your rights are being adequately protected.

The Legitimation Claim Crosses Jurisdictions

If the mother and child have moved away from Georgia since the child’s birth, your legitimation claim could be complicated by the fact that the claim crosses state lines. In this case, the jurisdiction for the claim moves from the mother’s county of residence to the alleged father’s county of residence.

Additionally, jurisdictions could change if the child is involved in an active adoption process or has an active juvenile court case. In these cases, the legitimation claim could be filed in the county where the adoption is taking place or in the juvenile court having jurisdiction over the existing case.

Navigating jurisdictional changes and the complexities of interstate family law can be confusing if you do not have counsel in your corner to handle the intricacies of your legitimation claim.

The Legitimation Claim Involves a Custody Dispute

Often, fathers file a legitimation petition following a separation from the child’s mother and involve the father wanting to have custody or visitation rights to the child. The same complications and potential issues arise in these cases as in custody disputes arising from a divorce.

Legal representation in these cases is vital, as counsel will ensure that the two matters, legitimation, and custody, do not become so entangled as to muddy the waters and reduce the chances of an unsuccessful claim.

There Are Other Complications to the Claim

When a court decides a legitimation claim, other factors are considered beyond the father’s paternity and whether he has demonstrated interest in being an active part of the child’s life. Some factors could include:

  • Fitness: Is the alleged father fit to raise a child? If the alleged father has a history of violence, substance abuse, or mental incompetency or is currently insolvent or homeless, these factors can mitigate against his legitimation claim.
  • Interest: Is it in the child’s best interest to have a relationship with the alleged father? If the current relationship between the child and the alleged father is troubled or contentious, that could harm the proceedings.
  • Maternal consent: Legitimation proceedings take the mother’s wishes into account. Even without legal standing for a challenge (above), a mother’s objection to a legitimation claim can be a red flag that the courts will pay attention to when making their determination.

Family Law Claims Can be Contentious

Even when both parties are more or less in agreement, there is always the potential in family law for a claim to become a contentious, emotionally draining fight. When emotions run high, it is always best to have a calm, professional expert acting and speaking on your behalf. Regardless of how amenable everyone is when the process begins, there’s always the potential for something to go wrong, so it is best to start with good representation.

Even an uncontested legitimation can be challenging. Turn to the skilled attorneys at EMC for help.

Our attorneys are experienced with paternity and legitimation law and will act on your behalf to help ensure you are properly and fairly represented throughout the process. Tell us about your situation today: 770-225-7000

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