It is a good idea to have a DNA test done to make sure that the child in question is truly yours. There are many labs available in metro areas that can accomplish this. Ask your primary care physician to recommend one. Make sure that you will be provided written results. Some judges may require such a test and it is easier to have it done before filing a petition than after.
Hiring attorney or Doing it yourself
Any competent family law attorney should be able to handle a legitimation matter without much issue. If there are more complex problems with your case then having good counsel is best. If you are doing it yourself then educating yourself about the process is key. Judges do not favor pro se litigants who are not prepared. In Georgia, first look at the law (online). The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) is the written collection of the laws of the State of Georgia. The section for legitimation of a child are OCGA 19-7-20 through OCGA 19-7-27. This will give you an idea of what the Court can or can't do in a legitimation case.
Another good resource is on the Fulton County Family Law website (www.fultoncourt.org); on that site there are free forms to review.
Drafting and Filing the Petition
To begin the case a petition for legitimation must be filed in filed in the Superior Court of county of residence of the child's mother/legal guardian. Father would be "Plaintiff" and mother/legal guardian would be "Defendant". If the mother lives out of state or cannot be found, the father may file in county of his residence. If an adoption has been filed, father needs to file in county where adoption is proceeding.
The petition itself needs to state the child's name, age and sex. Reviewing the forms at the Fulton website will give an idea of format. It should also include a claim for specific visitation. It is important to include this so the father can have a set schedule to have parenting time that is able to be enforced by Judge through a subsequent contempt action.
Filing fees are paid at time of filing and are between $ 80.00 and $ 90.00 with an additional $ 25.00 dollars to be paid to sheriff for service. The mother must be served by sheriff with a copy of petition.
Asking for and Attending a Hearing
Once mother is served, you need to request a hearing in front of the Judge your case has been assigned to. Usually the clerk of the superior court or the Judge's secretary can help you do this. Notice of the hearing should be sent to the mother. Be on time to hearing and bring copy of DNA test if you have one. When your case is called you as Plaintiff will go first. Judge will direct you to witness box and you will be sworn in..that is the point at which you tell the Judge who you are, who is the mother , who is the child, where the child lives and what you want the Court to do (legitimate and set some visitation guidelines...if you are seeking full custody I advise you to hire counsel). Ask the Judge to admit the DNA test into evidence so he can consider it. The mother or her attorney can ask you questions. They may try to put you in a bad light...you need to be able to respond calmly even in the face of difficult questions regarding your ability to parent.
The Order and Beyond
At the end of the hearing the Judge will issue an Order, either legitimating your child or not. The Courts have a strong preference to have all children legitimated so unless the mother can show you to be an "unfit" parent legitimation petitions usually are granted. You need to get a "certified copy" of the Order and keep it with you. If at any time the mother denies you access to the child when it is your parenting time that document is what the police will look for in order to help you. The Court has the power in a legitimation case to award child support to the custodial parent (mother), be aware you may get visitation and legitimation but you may also get a monthly child support obligation until the child is eighteen.
Additional resources provided by the author
Forms (see below)
OCGA (see below)
Resources for Fathers (see below)