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Does the Mother Automatically Get Custody of a Child if She Isn’t Married to the Child’s Father?

When a child is born out of wedlock, the mother automatically has all custody rights to that child. Even if the father signs the birth certificate, he has no custody or even visitation rights to the child until one of the parties has taken steps to establish paternity or legitimize the child. This can be done administratively by the parties signing certain paperwork, or by court order as requested by one or both of the parties. However, once paternity is established or the child is legitimized, the father can be awarded child custody if a court decides it would be in the child’s best interest.

When working out a parenting plan under Georgia law, the parties must address two different types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody addresses the parent’s home in which the child lives, whereas legal custody deals with the educational, medical, and other major decisions that parents must make throughout the child’s life. It is common for parties to have joint legal custody, in that the parents must cooperate in order to make major decisions about the child. However, in some circumstances, the court may find it most appropriate for one parent to have sole legal custody, such as where, for example, the parents have a high-conflict relationship and cannot agree on anything related to their child.

On the other hand, physical custody most often is granted to one parent, since a child usually resides primarily in one parent’s home or another. Joint physical custody is less common, but is being awarded more and more frequently as awareness has grown about the benefits for both child and parents in a true joint custody arrangement, in which the child spends equal time with each parent.

If the parties are unable to settle upon a parenting plan that is acceptable to both of them, each party will submit a proposed parenting plan to the court. After reviewing each plan and any other evidence presented by the parties, the court will issue a custody order that is in the best interest of the child.


Your Atlanta custody attorney at Shaw Law Firm LLC has the knowledge and skills that you need when you are facing a custody dispute regarding your child.

Contact us or call today to learn how Shaw Law can work with you to achieve the best outcome possible for you and your children.

Scott Shaw is founder and principle of Shaw Law Firm LLC, founded in 1995 and dedicated solely to divorce, family law and child custody matters that must be addressed and decided in the state of Georgia. Shaw Law Firm serves the greater Metro Atlanta area, particularly the counties of Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth, Paulding, Henry, Fayette, Coweta, Newton, Walton, Bartow and Douglas. Schedule a consultation today at 770-594-8309.