What rights do unmarried fathers have in Tennessee?

Fathers play an important role in a child’s life. However, establishing paternity can be a complicated process for unmarried fathers. In the event the unmarried parents are no longer together, establishing paternity is necessary for custody and visitation purposes.

The state of Tennessee only grants paternity automatically when a child is born to a married couple. As an unmarried father, there are two ways you can establish paternity. The way you establish paternity often depends on if you and the child’s mother agree that you are the biological father.

Voluntary acknowledgement of parenting

If you and the child’s mother agree that you are the biological father, you will both need to sign a voluntary acknowledgement of parenting. These forms are normally available at the hospital when your child is born.

You must have a notary present when you sign the form. Afterwards, you will need to file it with the Office of Vital Records, which generally has copies of these forms if you do not retain a copy at the hospital.

Petition to establish parentage

When parents do not agree on the biological father, establishing parenting becomes a more complicated legal process. The following people can file a petition to establish parentage:

  • Mother
  • Alleged father
  • Child
  • Department of Human Services

In the event the mother or alleged father is denying the paternity, the court will likely order DNA or genetic testing. This test is performed by taking a DNA sample from the cheek of the mother, alleged father and child. If the alleged father and child share matching DNA, the court will award an order of parentage to the father.

Once a father establishes paternity through a voluntary acknowledgement of patenting or petition to establish parentage, the court will add the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate. The court can then begin making decisions about child support, child custody and visitation.