Rights and responsibilities
If you help to conceive a child, love them and raise them as your own, then you are a dad in every sense of the word but one. Unfortunately, if you and the mother of the child were not married when the child was born, then you are not the father in a legal sense. This means two things:
- You will have no legal right to the child
- You will have no legal responsibility to the child
If you want to claim the child as your own, then you can do so through Legitimation. Legitimation is an action that grants you the right to:
- Have custody
- Have visitation
- Inherit from the child
- Have the child inherit from you
And the responsibility to:
- Pay child support
How do you get legitimation?
If you want to establish your legal relationship with your child, you will need to file a Legitimation action with the courts. Just having your name on the birth certificate will not be enough. If the child is younger than a year then the father can file an Acknowledgment of Legitimation with the mother’s agreement. It is similar to Legitimation but does not allow for visitation or child support. To get visitation rights the father would have to file a Petition for Custody and/or Visitation and the mother would have to file a Petition for Child Support. If an Acknowledgment of Legitimation is not filed, the court must determine paternity.
A determination of paternity is not a two-way street
When a mother files for a Petition for Determination of Paternity, the court will use DNA testing to identify the father. Then the court will determine the father’s responsibility for paying child support but not his rights to visitation and custody. To establish those, you will have to file a counterclaim to her petition asking for the court to determine your legal rights.
Whether you are a father establishing his legal rights or a mother establishing the father’s legal responsibilities, it is important that you speak with a lawyer to find out how to protect your child and avoid waiving your rights. Email or call us at 770-641-8200 today to learn more.