When married parents separate or divorce in Georgia, they both have rights to the children. It’s a different picture when the couple is not married. In this situation, only the mother is entitled to custody, not the unwed father, even if the couple was together for years and the father’s name is on all of the birth certificates.
Georgia law differentiates between a biological father and one who has been legally recognized. Fathering a child does not give you parental rights by default. Your position depends on whether you were married to the child’s mother at the time the child was born. If you were not, you have no legal standing, a reality that puts many unwed Georgia fathers in an emotionally difficult situation.
To have your parental rights recognized, you must file a civil action for legitimation in a Georgia family court. Once legitimacy is established, you may seek custody or visitation. Without this step, the only parent with rights is the mother, who can deny you the ability to see the children until you have been legally recognized.
Even if you and the children’s mother remain together, there are a number of reasons why seeking legal paternity is a wise move. Your children will be entitled to financial support from both of you and benefit from access to your combined health insurance, Social Security benefits, worker’s compensation, and other services.
Stepfathers in Georgia
We all know that a stepfather can be an important and cherished part of a child’s life. They can provide much-needed financial and emotional support when a biological father has no interest in his family. So what are the rights of stepfathers in Georgia?
Like an unwed father who has not established legal paternity, you have no right to custody and visitation if the relationship with the mother ends. Even if your stepchildren insist that they want you to visit, Georgia law treats these wishes as subordinate to the rights of their mother.
To obtain legal standing, you may petition for stepparent adoption, provided the following conditions exist:
- If the children’s father is no longer living, your spouse must agree to the adoption in writing.
- If he is still alive, he must voluntarily surrender his parental rights in writing. If the father refuses, the court handling the adoption will hold a hearing to decide what course of action is in the best interests of the children.
- If any of the children are aged 14 or older, they must consent in writing.
Once the adoption is finalized, you have the same legal standing as the children’s mother. Should the relationship end in separation or divorce, you may petition for visitation and even full custody. The children will also benefit from inheritance rights, access to your health coverage and Social Security benefits, and more.
Contact Us if You Have Questions as an Unwed Father
If you are an unwed father with questions about how your children can be legitimized or a stepfather wanting to establish a legal, as well as emotional connection with your stepchildren, contact the Law Office of Judith Delus, P.A. We firmly believe in a father’s right to enjoy an unimpeded relationship with his children, and will advise you on how to make that happen. To schedule a consultation and case review, contact us today.