Child Legitimation in Georgia - Rights of Parents

Under the common law of England, illegitimate children could not be rendered legitimate by any subsequent act of their parents. They were unfortunate members of society branded forever by the lusts of their mothers and fathers. The only possible method of legitimization was by the affirmative act of Parliament and so it remains to this day in all common law jurisdictions, i.e., legitimization is possible only by legislative grant. In re Pickett, 131 Ga. App. 159, 160, 205 S.E.2d 522, 523 (1974).

If this quote about the process of legitimatization (a.k.a. "legitimation") from a 1974 Georgia case represents to you an antiquated notion of parenthood that is far removed from the societal norms of modern times – there are two things you should know: (1) the entire foundation of all modern laws are (for better or for worse) constantly built and re-built from the time-worn laws our earlier societies; and (2) more importantly, this IS the current state of the modern child legitimation law in Georgia, even in 2013.

In order for a father in Georgia to gain any actual parental rights to his child – such that he can lawfully demand the benefits of fatherhood and access to his child – the child must first be legitimated. In passing (and continuing to amend the child legitimation laws in Georgia) the Georgia legislature "intended to provide a statutory right whereby a child could inherit from the father's estate and enjoy the father's name" Riggins v. Stirgus, 319 Ga. App. 790 (2013).

While inheritance and name designation are important, for sure, most of the legitimation cases I see involve fathers (unwed to the mother) who are concerned with establishing a relationship with their child but find their efforts blocked by mothers for a variety of reasons. The state of the law is that until a biological father of a child born out of wedlock (known as the "putative father") legitimates the child by proper procedure, the mother can lawfully block the father's access to his child. The irony is that a putative father must still honor his obligation to support the child and pay adequate child support even if the mother refuses to allow meaningful custodial access and parenting to the child.

In order to establish the specific parenting schedule and custodial arrangement, a putative father must file and maintain a court action. Although Georgia law was amended to allow for parents to legitimate the child on a specified form mutually signed by both parents at the time of birth (usually at the hospital) or within one year thereafter, a court action will still be required to translate the legitimation into actual, realized parenting rights if the parents cannot agree on a reasonable custodial arrangement and parenting plan.

At Fox Firm, P.C., one of the most important cases I handle is legitimation cases – both in representing fathers and mothers. When a legitimation action is filed, we look to establish the entire parenting arrangement going forward, including issues of child support. Both parents will have a variety of concerns and issues that need to be examined and incorporated into a tailored Parenting Plan. In addition to the multitude of legitimation cases with more-or-less standard issues, I have won outright physical custody for fathers in legitimation actions and I have also defeated legitimation actions on behalf of mothers in cases of fathers filing legitimation actions after sustained periods of willful non-relationship with the child.

Either way, these child legitimation cases are a priority for me and deserve the same attention as a custody dispute in a divorce case. Should you find the need for experienced and committed representation in a legitimation case in Gwinnett County or elsewhere in Georgia, please do not hesitate to contact my law offices at Fox Firm, P.C. in Lawrenceville, Georgia at 770.277.4883 or by way of email at dfox@douglasnfox.com.