Skip to Content
Legitimation Explained: Securing Parental Rights in North Carolina

Legitimation Explained: Securing Parental Rights in North Carolina

April 10, 2024 Rose H. Stout

In family law cases in North Carolina, parental rights can seem particularly complex, especially when children are born to unmarried couples. Navigating this terrain involves a legal process known as legitimation, which aims to grant putative fathers the full scope of parental privileges, rights, and responsibilities.

Advantages of Legitimation

Legitimation provides many benefits for both the father and the child. Benefits include:

  • Establishment and protection of the child’s relationship with the putative father.
  • Allows the putative father the legal rights to custody and visitation with the child.
  • Establishment of inheritance rights.
  • Protection of the child if the putative father dies without a will.
  • Financial benefits include health insurance coverage if the putative father has health insurance and entitlement to social security benefits.

Understanding Legitimation

Legitimation serves as a means for a putative father—a man who is alleged to be the biological father of a child born out of wedlock—to establish his legal relationship with the child. It allows him to acquire all the lawful parental rights and obligations as if the child were born to married parents.

The process begins with filing a special proceeding petition, distinct from a regular lawsuit, wherein the putative father, the mother, and the child all become involved parties. Notably, if the mother is married to someone other than the petitioner, her husband must also be included in the proceedings. Additionally, the putative father is required to furnish a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate as part of the petition.

The Legal Process

After a petition for legitimation is filed, a hearing is held within the special proceedings division of the court. Both sides present evidence of the child’s parentage during this hearing. If the court finds sufficient evidence to establish the putative father’s paternity, it can declare the child legitimated.

Challenges in Legitimation Cases

In cases where the mother is unmarried, the burden of proof required for legitimation hearings remains somewhat ambiguous under North Carolina General Statutes and existing case law. However, courts typically apply the standard of clear, cogent, and convincing evidence.

On the other hand, when the mother is married to another individual, a presumption arises that her husband is the child’s legal father. Here, the putative father must overcome this presumption by providing clear and convincing evidence of his paternity, often through methods such as DNA testing.

Impact of Legitimation

Once legitimation is granted, the parties involved assume all the rights and responsibilities of the minor child, which are inherent in parental status. Legitimation allows putative fathers to engage in actions as the child’s bona fide parent, including pursuing custody or child support claims. In addition, children legitimated through this process gain the automatic right to inherit from their putative father via intestacy statutes. Following a successful legitimation, a revised birth certificate is issued, reflecting the putative father’s parentage.

Legitimation in North Carolina stands as an important mechanism for affirming a putative father’s parental rights and responsibilities and affirming a child’s relationship with the putative father.

Personal Representation - Smith Debnam Attorneys at Law
At Smith Debnam, we are more than just lawyers.

We are problem solvers, negotiators, and trusted advisors for our clients. Contact us today to experience the Smith Debnam difference.

Contact Us Today