The Importance of Establishing Paternity in Georgia: Beyond Child Support

Establishing paternity is a crucial legal process in Georgia, often misunderstood as being solely for obtaining child support. However, the implications of paternity establishment extend far beyond this. Both biological mothers and fathers should be aware of the various reasons and benefits of establishing the paternity of their minor child or children. This article explores these reasons in detail.

Inheritance Rights
In Georgia, the inheritance rights of a child are significantly influenced by paternity. A child may only inherit from their biological mother unless the biological father’s paternity has been legally established. Furthermore, for a biological father to inherit from his biological child, he must have established his paternity. This is governed by O.C.G.A. § 53-2-3 and has been exemplified in cases like In re Estate of Warren. Paternity can be established through various means, including a court order of legitimation, a paternity order, acknowledgment on the birth certificate, or other clear and convincing evidence.

Child Support and Custodial Rights
While establishing paternity is a common route for custodial mothers to secure child support, it’s crucial to note that a paternity order does not automatically grant fathers custody or visitation rights. For fathers seeking a legally recognized relationship with their children, additional steps are required. This includes filing a petition for legitimation or responding with a counterclaim for legitimation in a paternity action, as noted in cases like Mabry v. Tadlock and under O.C.G.A. § 19-7-51. Therefore, paternity establishment is just the first step in a series of legal actions necessary for fathers to fully assert their parental rights.

Amendments to Birth Certificate
Once paternity is established, Georgia law permits the amendment of the child’s birth certificate to include the father’s name. This legal recognition, however, does not automatically allow the child to carry the father’s surname. To achieve this, the father must initiate a legitimation proceeding, as indicated by O.C.G.A. § 19-7-22(c) and cases like Johnson v. Coggins.

Social Security Benefits
Establishing paternity is also essential for a child to receive social security benefits from a deceased parent. Under federal law (42 U.S.C. § 402(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350 (2008)), a child must demonstrate the ability to inherit from the deceased parent as per state intestacy laws. As previously discussed, in Georgia, this inheritance is contingent upon established paternity.

Custodial Rights: A Significant Consideration
An important aspect that biological fathers must understand is that establishing paternity does not automatically confer custodial rights. To seek child custody or parenting time, biological fathers must pursue and obtain an order of legitimation. This legal step is vital for fathers who wish to have a formal relationship with their biological children born out of wedlock.


Understanding the reasons and benefits of establishing paternity is vital for both biological mothers and fathers in Georgia. Barrett Partners Group is there for you every step of the way. While the most commonly recognized reason is child support, the implications of paternity establishment are far-reaching, affecting inheritance rights, custodial rights, and social security benefits. Parents need to be aware of these factors and seek appropriate legal guidance to navigate the complexities of paternity and legitimation processes effectively.