How do I Establish Paternity for my Child?
Establishing paternity for a child in Georgia may be done in one of the following ways:
1. the child’s parents are legally married to each other at the time of the child’s birth;
2. unwed parents sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Form
a. at the hospital when the child is born, or later at either
b. the State Office of Vital Records in Atlanta or
c. the Vital Records Office in the county where the child was born;
3. Court order (divorce decree, separation agreement, or other judicial or administrative order).
Paternity establishment by the Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) may be processed through a local Superior Court or through an Administrative Court, depending on the county of your residence. Genetic testing is available in both these processes.
Additionally, if unwed parents have established paternity through the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Program, the DCSS will take action(s) to obtain and enforce other services for you; i.e., monetary child support and/or health insurance for your child.
There is no cost to you for establishing paternity through the DCSS except for the application for services fee and the cost of genetic testing (if the test results indicate the alleged father is the biological parent of the child). Currently, the cost for genetic testing is $29.65 per person. For mother, father and child, the total cost of genetic testing through DCSS is $88.95.
Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Program
The Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Program was established by Federal Law in 1988. Federal laws relating to this program have been updated several times since 1988 to ensure an easy process is in place to assist unwed parents in legitimating and establishing paternity for their child.
What does it mean to establish paternity for your child?
It means a “legal” father has been named for your child.
What does it mean to legitimate my child?
In Georgia, a father who has established paternity for his child but has not legitimated the child is unable to pursue custody and visitation issues. Also, unless a child is “legitimate,” (s)he may be unable to collect insurances and benefits or inherit from the father’s estate.
How does the Paternity Acknowledgment Process work?
Unwed parents are given the opportunity to sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment (PA) form at or near the time of a child’s birth. The PA form, when properly completed, helps establish the father and child relationship when the biological father is not married to the mother. It creates certain legal responsibilities for the mother, father and child.
Unwed parents are provided an opportunity to sign a Voluntary PA form in the hospital when their child is born. After leaving the birthing hospital, parents may complete the form anywhere, and submit the completed form to the State Office of Vital Records. Both parents’ signatures must be witnessed by a notary public.
By signing this document, the parents are establishing the right of the child to certain benefits including:
• Two parents with whom the child can establish an emotional bond.
• Two parents who will share a legal responsibility to financially support the child.
• Two parents whose names will appear on the birth certificate.
• The ability to receive social security and other benefits from the father, if needed.
Parental Rights & Responsibilities
There are certain rights and responsibilities associated with signing the PA form:
• Signing the form is strictly voluntary.
• One should not sign the PA unless he is confident he is the biological father.
• By signing the PA, it will be presumed by law that he is the father of the child and the child's birth certificate will be issued to reflect this fact.
• By signing the PA, the father has the right to a notice of an adoption proceeding or a proceeding to terminate the rights of a biological father who is not the legal father.
• By signing the PA, the father is accepting the responsibility to provide child support and medical insurance until the child is eighteen (18) years of age, or beyond in some cases.
• After signing the PA, either the mother or the father may rescind (cancel) the acknowledgment within sixty (60) days of the date of the signature on the PA form or up to the date of an order establishing paternity, whichever occurs first.
• If the PA isn’t rescinded (cancelled) within sixty (60) days of the signature on the PA form.
If both parents do not sign the PA before leaving the hospital or birthing facility, only the mother's name and the child's name will be entered on the birth certificate.
The PA may be signed at a later date at which time the certificate of birth will be amended to enter the name of the father.
The PA may be completed and signed at a local Vital Records office in the county where the child is born or the State Vital Records Office in Atlanta. For information on how to rescind (cancel) a signed PA form, contact your local county Vital Records Office. The PA, once completed and signed in the presence of a Notary, will be forwarded to the State Vital Records Service where it will be entered into the State Putative Father Registry.
Canceling the PA Form
If a decision is made to cancel the Paternity Acknowledgment within the 60 days allowed by law, the rescission will not cause or allow an amendment to the birth certificate. To have the father's name removed from the birth certificate or to make changes to the child's surname, you will need a certified copy of a court order directing Vital Records to amend the birth certificate. The court order must specifically state the name to be removed from the birth certificate (if someone other than the father is listed as the child’s father on the certificate OR if “unknown” is listed) AND the name of the person to be entered as the father on the certificate [O.C.G.A. § 31-10-23(c)(2)].
After the 60-day rescission period has ended, the signed PA will constitute a legal determination of paternity and may be challenged in a court of law only on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact, with the burden of proof on the person challenging the acknowledgment.
Any legal responsibilities, including child support obligations, arising from the PA may not be suspended during the challenge, except for good cause shown.
For Additional Information
For more detailed information regarding the Putative Father Registry, go to the Public Health Web site.