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An Era of Active Fathers

According to research, there are both biological and psychological reasons of why children do better when they have actively involved fathers.  Having an actively involved father can influence a child’s psychological, cognitive, and social development.  Overall, having an active father is beneficial to the child and the parents.  However, here in Georgia, being an active father requires more steps than signing the birth certificate, daddy-daughter dances, being acknowledged on Father’s Day, and/or having regular quality time scheduled – if the child was born out of wedlock.  A child is considered “born out of wedlock” when their parents were not married before, during, or after the child’s birth.  When a child is born out of wedlock, the only parent Georgia acknowledges as having legal rights to a child is the biological mother. But what does this mean for fathers who are already actively engaged or would like to safely be actively involved in their child’s life?  If parents were never married, biological fathers should initiate the paternity and/or legitimation process.

Paternity and legitimation are two distinct legal concepts in Georgia. Paternity is the acknowledgment of the biological relationship between father and child.  After which, a court can enforce a father’s duty to support a child financially (i.e. child support obligation). In contrast, legitimation acknowledges the biological relationship but it also allows fathers to gain legal rights (legal custody) of a child born out of wedlock.  Legal custody is beneficial for both parents and the child in the long run because it allows a child to inherit from the father, and the father can inherit from the child.  Additionally, legal custody gives fathers the right to be actively involved in the child’s well-being and development as it gives the father the right and access to obtain the child’s medical, educational, and legal history and updates.  Big picture, legal custody also means, in the event that the mother becomes unable to care for the child, the father and/or a family member on the father’s side will gain the right for the child to live with them, rather than the child being placed in the foster system.

Without legitimation, only the mother of a child born out of wedlock has physical and legal custody rights.  Once a child is legitimized, the father will also gain the right to ask the court for custody or visitation.  Physical custody and visitation means there can be (but not always guaranteed) parenting time for the father.  Legitimization provides more security in the long run, so the earlier it is done, the better.  Legitimation does not mean the father will get physical custody rights, nor does it mean the mother will lose her physical or legal rights of the child. Like most family law concepts in Georgia, legitimation is for the best interest of the child and the court will put certain protective measures in place if there is a need, based on the history of the parties.  Almost always, legitimation is an all- around win for everyone involved.

Paul Amato, a sociologist who studies parent-child relationships at Pennsylvania State University, said  “When fathers are actively involved with their children, children do better,”  So whether you just received notice that the father of your child is interested in filing legitimation, or you are a father unsure of how to begin forming a relationship with your child, legitimation is the first step that will benefit you, the child, and the other parent.

Renee Richardson