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"Let us sacrifice our today so that our children can have a better tomorrow."

-A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Every day I encounter fathers from different walks of life and in extremely different circumstances. But if the father is being denied time with his child, no matter what walk of life, I have noticed the same reoccurring theme. "Why do I have to pay for a child that I cannot see?"

My initial, common sense response to that question is always "just because you may not see your child as much as you would like, or at all, does not stop the child from having needs." The "out of sight, out of mind" mindset does not apply to children. Or a more fitting idiom to this situation is "if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" The answer is yes. Despite you not being around to witness your child's growth, they are indeed still growing and still have needs. And they require financial support to fulfill those needs.

In addition to my "common sense" reaction, when it comes to the law, the answer is still the same. Under Georgia law, a father can be recognized as the biological father and can be ordered to pay child support. However, if the minor child was born out of wedlock and the biological father has not legitimated the child, Georgia does not recognize the father as the child's legal father. Well, what exactly does that mean? Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 19-7-25, "only the mother of a child born out of wedlock is entitled to custody of the child, unless the father legitimates the child."

You may ask, well what if the child has been legitimized and the mother is still denying me visitation? I often have fathers (and sometimes mothers) in my office who have been placed in this same exact situation. More often than not, some fathers' response is to question whether they will still have the obligation to provide support to the minor child if they made the decision to terminate their parental rights.

The short answer is yes. Although the process to voluntarily surrender your parental rights in Georgia is fairly easy, it is not as easy to shed your responsibilities to the minor child. In essence, there is a distinct difference under the law between rights and obligations. Certain parental rights include the ability to make decisions regarding the child's upbringing, the right to visitation, and the right to inherit from the minor child. Whereas your obligations include providing for the safety and welfare of the minor child and supporting the child financially. Despite terminating your rights, your obligations to the child will continue unless and until the child is adopted by a stepparent, who assumes the natural parent's rights and obligation.

Personally, I could not fathom giving up my ability to see my child. I would never want my child to know that I contemplated the idea of being without them. However, I can understand the frustrations and heartaches one must suffer not being able to see their children. It is even more frustrating knowing that I have to continue to dish out money to a mother who is withholding my child from me. Reflecting back to the quote that started this blog, sometimes we have to sacrifice in the near term, so that our children can grow and flourish. It is also important to remember though, that child support obligations are for the benefit of the child and not the mother. Ultimately, withholding child support will hurt the minor child more than the mother.

So, what can you do? Fortunately, the law provides remedies and relief to noncustodial parents. In the case of a father having to pay child support but being unable to visit with the child because he lacks legal rights, the father can petition the Superior Court to legitimate the minor child and seek some rights. This allows the father a seat at the table to begin participating in legal decision making for the minor child and he can exercise visitation. The ease/difficulty level of the legitimation/visitation process differs on a case by case basis, it is important to consult an attorney to determine what rights you are entitled to and how best to get them.

When it comes to fathers who have legal rights and are still unable to exercise visitation, fear not, the law provides you relief as well. If the custodial parent is withholding court ordered visitatllion, the noncustodial parent has the ability to petition the court to hold the parent in willful contempt of the court's order. Often times, the first time a parent is held in contempt, the sanction is a slap on the wrist. However, continual disregard for the court's order can result in serious economic consequences and even jail time. Moreover, if it can be proven that the custodial parent has been consistently and willfully interfering with the noncustodial parent's visitation, there is also the possibility that the Court will change custody.

Being a parent is not an easy task. It is even more difficult to parent when the other parent is intentionally making it harder on you. In those moments when it seems too hard, remember to never give up because there is relief for you. Ultimately, the goal is to put your child first and continue to support them in all ways to give them the best opportunity for a great life.

Denethris Barnes

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