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Custody and Visitation Rights in Georgia


In Georgia, married parents have equal rights to custody and visitation. However, the custody and visitation rights will be different if the parents aren’t married. Georgia law gives custody rights to the mother only if the parents are not married. Unwed fathers are required to file a legitimation action in court in order to get custody and visitation rights. If the unwed father does not want to file a legitimation action in court, then the mother and father can sign a voluntary acknowledgement of legitimation.

What is a legitimation action?

A legitimation action legally recognizes that the man is the father of the child. It gives the inheritance right to the child from the father. The unwed father can also ask for custody, visitation and/or child support as part of the legitimation action. The father must file for legitimation in court whereas the petition needs to be filed in the county where the mother and child reside.

If the father’s name is listed on the child’s birth certificate, it does not mean that the father has any legal rights to custody and visitation. If the father and mother are not married, only the mother has legal right over the child. Being the birth father does not give the child the right to inherit from the father under Georgia law. The unwed father has full rights to legitimate the child either in a court action or by signing the legitimation acknowledgement.

Similarly, if the father has been ordered by court to pay child support, it does not give the father any legal rights to child custody or visitation. In case of unmarried parents who choose to agree on which parent shall have custody, the court may choose not to honor the agreement if it determines that it is not in the best interest of the child.

Children older than 14 years in Georgia have the right to select the parent they wish to live with. However, if the court decides that the selected parent will not be able to take care of the child, the court may decide not to go ahead with that decision. The judge will consider all the needs of the child, including their education and their desires when determining which parent the child will live with. The judge has the ultimate say in all these matters. Parents must also take decisions which are in the best interest of the child instead of giving the children the liberty of taking the decision themselves.

All child custody and visitation cases filed in Georgia after January 1, 2008 need to have a parenting plan. The parenting plan allows parents to think through and decide how issues concerning custody and visitation need to be dealt with. If both parents are in agreement, they can file a joint plan, otherwise each parent submits a separate plan. The final decision is taken by the court.

Both parents have equal rights to custody under Georgia law. The final decision lies with the judge and is taken keeping the best interests of the child in consideration.


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