Are you an unmarried father? Your legal status as a parent is in jeopardy if you don’t take this one step.

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Atlanta’s Caring Lawyers can help

In the United States, 40 percent of babies are born to unwed parents. If you’re the father, you do not automatically have legal parental rights.

“Even if the father is on the birth certificate, he does not have parental rights unless the couple is married,” says Lisa Owen, an attorney with Cauthorn Nohr & Owen with more than 20 years of experience in Family Law. “Even in the happiest of relationships, fathers should plan to file a petition for legitimation as soon as possible.”

What is legitimation? Legitimation establishes parental rights with and to the child. Legitimation is different from paternity. Paternity is used to establish the biological father and obligates the payment of child support. Legitimation establishes legal rights for the father and his child. These rights include:

·      A father’s right to petition court for custody, parenting time or visitation.

·      The child’s right to inherit from the father.

If the father has not established legitimation, the consequences could be severe. For example, if the mother were to die, the baby would not automatically go to the father. In a case where the mother is unfit to care for the child and the father takes the baby, he could technically be charged with kidnapping. In either case, the baby would go to the Division of Family and Children Services first unless there’s consent from the mother.

“If you have not established legitimation, it can be fixed, but it will take time,” says Ms. Owen. “See a lawyer about your rights — you need to file a petition for legitimation before there’s an emergency.”