Tonight's post on moving quickly in legitimation was written by our
Lawrenceville and Gainesville divorce attorney,
Jennifer Thuy-Tien McCall.
We address the importance of quickly legitimating children
on our blog often and for good reason. Until an unwed biological father legitimates
his child, that father has no legal rights to the child. While he and
his child's mother may be getting along at first, we often see these
relationships sour. Then what happens?
Maybe mom lets you see the child now, but what happens when she demands
more money than you can afford? What happens when she decides she wants
to move away? What happens when her new man thinks he's a better father than you?
Further, the court can decide that you've abandoned your child if you
don't move quickly. A finding of civil abandonment may foreclose your
opportunity to ever legitimate your child. A finding of criminal abandonment
may lead to criminal charges.
The court recognizes that biological fathers should have an opportunity
to develop a relationship with their children. As long as the father accepts
responsibility for his child, the father should be able to enjoy the many
benefits of establishing a parent-child relationship. This is called an
This opportunity interest, however, can be lost or abandoned if the father
does not pursue it in a timely fashion. Legitimation opportunities grow
stale. When the court decides whether the father has exercised or abandoned
his opportunity interest, the court will consider factors like the father's
involvement during the mother's pregnancy, the time it took for the
father to file his legitimation petition, the father's contact with
the child, and the father's support to the mother and child.
The court has broad discretion in determining what is too great a delay
for a father to assert his right to legitimate. In the case of In the
Interest of J.M., 289 Ga.App. 439 (2008), a delay of twenty-four months
was too long. In the case of In re Baby Girl Eason, 257 Ga. 292 (1987),
there is language to suggest that a court could even find nine months
a long enough delay to determine that the father has abandoned his opportunity interest.
If the court finds that you've abandoned your opportunity interest,
you will not be able to legitimate your child and you will not have any
rights to the child, ever. Fathers often tell us that they wait to legitimate
because they're afraid to upset mom; go along to get along. But mom
may be more forgiving than the court.
Besides, mom can't impose a death sentence on your relationship with
your child. The court can.
Jennifer Thuy-Tien McCall