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Legitimation: No Pain, Gain!

Tonight's post on Legitimation was written by one of our Atlanta Family Law Attorneys, Dina Khismatulina.

Several days ago, our downtown Atlanta office received a call from an elderly gentleman who stated that he desperately wanted to establish relations with his middle-age son and legitimize him. He said that his biggest regret in life was that he was never in his son's life. He said: "I want to make it right, before it's too late".

Unfortunately, it is too late. Of course, the gentleman can try to develop a relationship with his son who may forgive him at some point, but he is about 25 years too late for a legitimation process.

Under Georgia law, only a minor child can be legitimized. After a child reaches the age of majority, legitimation is not possible. The purpose of legitimation is for a father of a child born out of wedlock to establish his relationship with the child in the eyes of the law. Without legitimation, sole custody, in fact every single one of the bundle of rights to the child, belongs to the mother.

Another way to establish legal relationship to a child in Georgia would be marrying the mother of the child, either before the child is born, obviously, or after the child is born, coupled with holding the child out as your own. "This is my child!"

The third way is the way that we get involved.  A father files a legitimation action in Superior Court, asking the judge to pronounce him legal daddy.

According to the National Vital Statistics Report, in 2010, 40.8% of all children were born to unmarried mothers.  So this information applies to almost half of all fathers out there!

Upon legitimation, the father and child are closer to having the same rights as if the child were born in marriage. The father can seek custody and visitation, and ask a judge to change the last name of the child to his last name. Additionally, legitimation enables the father to inherit from the child.

It is worth noticing that a biological father is obligated to pay child support regardless of whether a child is legitimized or not. So, it only makes sense to obtain rights that stem from a father-child relationship, because an obligation to pay is enforced either way.

In addition, legitimation brings lots of benefits to a child. Without legitimation, a child cannot inherit from his father unless he or she is mentioned in a will.  They also cannot receive his social security benefits. A child cannot get access to his father's medical records. The latter is especially important nowadays because a medical history of family members can be invaluable for medical diagnosis purposes.

Further, the child can be placed in a paternal relative's home if a mother dies or becomes unable to take care of the child.

Here's another story from the pages of no legitimation tragedy: a paternal grandmother has been raising her grandchild from day one. Her son did not marry the child's mom and has spent every day in jail since before the child was born. Even though the biological grandmother is the de facto primary caregiver, legally she has no standing with regards to the child's custody. She has nothing, though, for the child, she is his whole world.

The bottom line is, in Georgia, fathers should step up to the plate and legitimize their children.  It's all gain, and no pain.

Dina Khismatulina

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