New law helps fathers and children

July 19, 2005

ATLANTA (GA) – Fathers who acknowledge or establish paternity of a child born out of wedlock may now – with the consent of the mother – establish their legal standing to ask the courts for custody or visitation rights without having to hire a lawyer and wait months. Georgia became the last state to simplify this extra step, known as “legitimation,” thanks to a bill passed by the 2005 General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue, which took effect July 1.

“We believe that every child needs the emotional as well as financial support of both parents, so we are very pleased,” says Robert Riddle, director of the Georgia Department of Human Resource’s (DHR) Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE). “This law streamlines the procedures for establishing paternity, legitimizing a child and obtaining visitation and custody rights, each of which used to involve a separate costly and time-consuming process. These legal barriers prevented many fathers from pursuing a relationship with their children. We believe that now many fathers will find it easier to assume their role as parents. This will make a difference in many children’s lives.”

Another way the new law can benefit children is by making it possible for DHR’s Division of Family and Children Services to consider more fathers and paternal grandparents as potential placements if the mother should lose custody of the child. This could mean fewer children living in foster homes, and reduce pressure on the state’s limited pool of qualified foster parents.

Last federal fiscal year, 53,000 births were reported to unwed parents in Georgia. Of this number, about 29,000 fathers acknowledged paternity at the birth hospital through a collaboration between OCSE and DHR’s Division of Public Health’s Vital Records unit. Other fathers establish paternity later in their child’s life, as when the courts seek to establish a child support order. Fathers who established paternity before July 1, 2005 will still have to take a separate court action to legitimize their relationship to the child.

For information, contact:
Barbara Joye; 404/657-1385