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But I Signed the Birth Certificate!?

On Behalf of | Feb 17, 2017 | Custody

Let’s talk administrative legitimation. I work with a lot of men who are dads-out-of-wedlock, and are seeking some visitation (or at times custody) rights regarding children they had with women they weren’t/aren’t married to. We now live in a society where a lot of births happen before the marriage, or sometimes the parents never get married but stay together as a couple. This is now the hip, Hollywood-style of parenting and family-ing.

First and foremost: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is nothing written in blood or stone that says you have to be married to be a good parent, or that you have to be married to have kids. The stigma of having an “illegitimate” child is passé and tired.

Well, Georgia law for a while (allegedly) accommodated the illegitimate birth thing by doing what was formally called an “administrative legitimation”. Basically, mom and dad could sign a legitimation form at the hospital acknowledging the child’s legal father and declaring the signor as the legal father of the child.

This provision, codified in O.C.G.A. §19-7-21.1. was repealed in July 2016. That means, done away with, gone bye-bye, adios, And you’d honestly be surprised at how many attorneys don’t understand or even know this, and how many folks (especially dads) out there are misinformed about legitimation. The effect of the repeal was that now, for dads to declare their kids as legally their kids is marrying the mother or requesting a paternity or legitimation order from the Court. Why was the administrative legitimation law repealed? I think because Georgia tends to be a bit paternalistic in these matters and wants to promote family values and legitimation by men who are actually the fathers. I imagine there was a lot of discussion about guys showing up and signing these orders who weren’t actually the father, guys who had perhaps been told they were and then were carried away by the moment.

But, before you get worked up about the repeal, know this: administrative legitimation didn’t actually do anything. It had no teeth, so to speak. It merely said yeah, you’re the dad, but didn’t give you any actual parental rights or access to the child. It’s a standard hospital form that mothers can take to child support services and get child support, maybe bypassing the need and expense of paternity testing because look right there, you’ve acknowledged you’re the father. So you’d still have to petition the court for access to the child and visitation rights, and so on.

As well, from a practical standpoint: people just don’t hold on to paperwork and forms like that. So, if you and the mother break up and she won’t let you see your kid, you’d need to find that form (wherever it is), and petition for visitation. May as well bypass the endless search for that form (and costs and time associated with said retrieval) and petition for legitimation AND visitation (which I do a lot) in one simple action.

Legitimation is something both mothers and fathers should do right after the birth of the child, regardless of how happy their relationship is. I think this is why the repeal was spurred, by feel-goods about family values: we want dads to be dads and be involved in their kids’ lives – Georgia law actually prefers the presumption of legitimation father than not. Too many dads were getting duped into thinking they had parental rights after signing these forms when at the end of the day, all they ended up with was no access to the child and a free pass to a child support obligation. Now, we’re left a more streamlined law governing legitimation of kids born out of wedlock (O.C.G.A. §19-7-22).

So, legitimate your kids, dad. Get yourself some rights. Signing the birth certificate means nothing. Signing that form at the hospital means nothing. Talk to an attorney (like me) and get yourself squared anyway, even if you and mom are happily unmarried and co-parenting. Time passes. Things change.