An unmarried father’s rights in Georgia, such as custody and visitation of his child, are contingent on establishing his paternity of that child within the court system. However, established paternity only grants the father the right to petition the court for custody and visitation. The court will decide those factors in accordance with the best interest of the child, not the gender of the parent.
In the state of Georgia, an unmarried father can confirm paternity in two ways. The mother and father can sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Form at the time the child is born at the hospital. If they wish to sign the form later on, they can do so at the State Office of Vital Records in Atlanta or the Vital Records Office in the county of the child’s birth. The father can also establish paternity through a court order. When paternity involves a court order, the Office of Child Support Services will review the application and perform a genetic test.
If the unmarried mother and father come to a custody arrangement without the aid of the court, they can write their own stipulation (a statement of the arrangement) and consent order (which allows the court to approve the agreement). However, if the parents do not agree on custody arrangements, the court will decide for them, based on the best interest of the child. The factors in determining the best interest of the child are: which parent is the primary care giver; the physical and mental health of the mother and father, and any evidence of abuse by either parent; a prior custody stipulation; each parent’s willingness to foster the child’s relationships with the opposite parent and other family members; the child’s preference; each parent’s ability to provide financially for the child; the residence of each parent; and if a parent abandoned the other, leaving the other parent to care for the child alone.
Visitation occurs when only one parent has physical custody of the child. The noncustodial parent is allowed to see his child but cannot make decisions that affect the long-term choices and rules of the custodial parent, such as baptizing the child in the Catholic Church while the custodial parent raises the child as Jewish. Under circumstances of abuse by the noncustodial parent, visitation is supervised by a friend or relative of the parents’ agreed choice. The court does retain the right to deny visitation. This, however, does not mean that the parent can stop paying child support.