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Recently, the Georgia Supreme Court, in reversing the Georgia Court of Appeals decision as to a legitimation petition, held that the evidence was sufficient, by the appropriate standard of proof, for the trial court to deny the putative father’s petition to establish his legal rights to a child. This supreme court opinion, in reviewing the analysis of the court of appeals, illustrated an approach of the court of appeals in some child welfare cases to state a standard of review that defers to the trial court as trier of fact; but then, in de facto deference, to the rights of parents to re-weigh the evidence presented to the trial court; and thus, to reach a different conclusion on appeal than the trier of fact.

In Brumbelow v. Mathenia,1 Mathenia v. Brumbelow,2 and Brumbelow v. Mathenia,3 the court of appeals and the supreme court published opinions following a denial of a petition for legitimation by the Habersham County Superior Court, in which the different courts reached different conclusions while citing the same standard of review. The standard of review as to legitimation decisions has been largely deferential to the trial court—abuse of discretion as to rulings and clearly erroneous as to findings of fact—and is well-established by precedent. The analysis conducted by the court of appeals in this series of opinions raises a question: Is appellate review of trial court parental rights rulings moving toward a different standard of review than the one established by precedent?

1 347 Ga. App. 861, 819 S.E.2d 535 (2018) (hereinafter Brumbelow I).

2 308 Ga. 714, 843 S.E.2d 582 (2020) (hereinafter Brumbelow II).

3 358 Ga. App. 404, 855 S.E.2d 425 (2021) (hereinafter Brumbelow III).