A study released by the CDC claims that nearly one in four births is the child of an unmarried couple. That number has nearly doubled since 2002, and tripled since 1985. In many cases, the unmarried couple does not remain together, and a young man can be left wondering what his rights to his child are. Unfortunately for the male, the answer is all too often “none.”
Nancy Richardson, a collaborative family law attorney with Stewart Melvin & Frost helps us understands the rights of fathers in this situation. Nancy specializes in divorces and related disputes affecting families through either litigation or a “collaborative” approach. In addition to her growing collaborative practice, Nancy focuses on appellate issues.
Stewart Melvin & Frost is one of Northeast Georgia’s oldest and largest regional law firms and is widely respected as an “Uncommon Practice” – the firm features an experienced team of attorneys, each of whom is recognized as an expert in highly specialized areas of the law.
Question: If a man and woman who are unmarried have a baby, what rights does the man have to the child?
Nancy: The short answer? None. There are things the man can do to express interest in parenting the child, though, like registering for the Putative Father Registry or acknowledging paternity.
Question: What is the “Putative Father Registry”?
Nancy: “Putative” means “supposed.” Basically, it’s a list of the names of men who have either acknowledged paternity of a child by completing the Paternity Acknowledgment form, or who have indicated the possibility of paternity without acknowledging paternity of the child. The registry ensures that a man will be informed before a child is put up for adoption, and is the first step toward gaining rights to a child he fathers out of wedlock. It is maintained on a state level by the Georgia Department of Public Health, Vital Records Section.
Question: What else can a man do to gain rights to seeing his child?
Nancy: The best advice I have is to keep in touch with the mother, and keep expressing an interest in having that father-child bond. A court is much less likely to deny a man any contact with his child if he has played a constant role in the child’s life. Also, a man can voluntarily acknowledge the child’s paternity by signing the birth certificate. The man has to be present for this, however – the mother cannot fill out and sign the form on his behalf. It is important to note, though, that the voluntary legitimation of your father-child relationship does not grant you any rights other than the right to leave money or an estate to your child in the case of your death.
Question: Is there some sort of paperwork the man can file, other than registering for the Putative Father Registry?
Nancy: There are two types of actions that can be filed: a paternity action, which can be filed either by the man or the woman, or a paternity and legitimation action, which can only be filed by the man.
Question: Say there is a young man out there who can’t afford legal counsel in this matter. What are his options?
Nancy: There are a few possible places he could look into. There is the Family Law Information Center, FLIC, which is based on income qualifications. They provide advice, but they cannot represent you in court. There is also the Department of Child Support Services, which can help to obtain a child support order. He could visit the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) for information and direction. There is also the option of legal aid. So there are several options out there, but the best thing to do would be to research what your personal best option would be.