What rights does an unmarried father have in custody conflicts?

In Tennessee, the legal rights regarding child custody if you are an unmarried father can present several challenges. To begin with, it is the de facto position that an unmarried mother has physical and legal custody of the child. This changes, though, when you prove paternity. At that time, you have the same legal rights as a married father.

As an unmarried father, you can establish paternity in one of two ways. When both the mother and father agree on paternity, a form must be filled out, signed by both biological parents in the presence of a notary, and filed with the Office of Vital Records. This process is known as the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity Program. If you are a minor, your parent or guardian must sign consent and be present when you sign the form. In the second case, when a dispute exists as to paternity, a DNA test may be ordered to verify paternity. When your DNA matches that of the child, the court will then issue an order of parentage.

According to the Tennessee Department of Human Services, once an unmarried father has established paternity, he becomes the legal father. You then have the same legal standing as the mother in custody cases. In cases where visitation rights are a matter of contention, you can strengthen your standing by attending court hearings and working with an attorney experienced in fathers’ rights.

This information is intended to give an overview of paternity issues, and is not meant to provide legal advice.