If the father and mother of a child were never married, the father does not automatically share the same parental rights as the mother does. If the father wishes to remain active in the child’s life, he must go through a legal process called legitimation, in order to be legally recognized as the child’s father. It can be difficult to know what to do in this situation, but Pond Law is here to explain what you need to know about the legitimation of a child.

What Does Legitimation of a Child Mean?

Legitimation is a legal action which grants parental rights to the biological father of a child who is born out of wedlock. It is the only way, besides marrying the mother of the child, for a father to establish a legal relationship with his child.

If a child is born to a married couple, or if the couple marries after the child is born, the child is considered legitimate. In these cases, the law automatically recognizes the husband and wife as having parental rights to the child.

However, if the couple is not married, the father must file a petition for legitimation if he wishes to be involved in his child’s life. Without legitimation, the father cannot obtain custody, exercise visitation rights, or make legal decisions on behalf of the child. The mother holds these rights exclusive of the father unless he pursues legitimation.

Requirements for Child Legitimation

There are two methods to legitimize a child.

The first is entering into an agreement with the child’s mother, which is called an acknowledgment of legitimation. This legal agreement states that both parents freely consent to the legitimation of their child. They usually have until the child’s first birthday to sign this acknowledgement. However, it will not be recognized if the mother was married to another man when the child was born, or during the usual time of gestation.

The second way is by filing a petition for legitimation. The father can take this route if the mother disputes the legitimation and does not agree to the acknowledgement described above. The petition is usually filed in the Superior Court in the county of the mother’s residence. The mother is formally notified and has a right to attend the hearing.

The father should be sure to file for legitimation in a timely manner. If the court finds that no action has been taken within a reasonable amount of time, they could dismiss the father as forfeiting his parental rights. Waiting more than one year after the child’s birth is usually considered an unreasonable delay.

The court will only approve the father’s petition if he is deemed to be a suitable parent, and if it is in the child’s best interest.

Benefits of Legitimizing Your Child

It is important for a father to file for legitimation if he wants to establish a relationship with his child, without marrying the mother. Legitimizing your child offers several benefits which make a relationship possible and protected by law.

Most importantly, the father becomes legally recognized, just the same as if he had been married to the mother. When a father-child relationship is established in the eyes of the law, the father now has shared custody and visitation rights, so he cannot be barred from seeing his child.

Legitimation is important because it protects a father’s relationship with his child. There are cases when, after a DNA test, the biological father is required to pay child support, even without being legally recognized as the father. In this case, the father has no custody or visitation rights, but he is still mandated to support the child financially. For this reason, fathers should legitimate their children. They accept the responsibility of supporting their children, but they will not be barred from custody or visiting.

Legitimation also allows the child to inherit automatically from his father, and vice versa. The court might also determine that it is in the child’s best interest to take the father’s last name, or to add the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate.


Filing for legitimation can be a difficult or frustrating process. If you have any questions, contact Pond Law, or request a consultation. Our qualified team is here to help you.

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