When unmarried couples have a child, Tennessee courts presume the father has no biological relation to the newborn. Unmarried parents do have the same rights as legally married couples. The major difference is, paternity needs establishing before a parent can fight for their rights.
The burden falls on the father
Legally and logically, the birth mother is automatically granted rights as a sole parent. It is the father that the court presumes isn’t a biological relation — regardless of any testimony to the contrary — until it’s been legally established.
Admittedly, this practice is unfair to the father. But to get father’s rights, he must establish paternity before the court. This will certainly allow him to see his child and have a say in their well-being. It could also mean the court putting child support on his shoulders.
How Tennessee establishes paternity
In the Volunteer State, before the child turns 21 years old, courts determine paternity via “voluntary” or “involuntary” means.
If both parents agree on the issue, this is voluntary. They sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity.” In most cases, that’s done before the birth. But it also happens after. Both mother and father must sign before a notary and then send it to the Office of Vital Records.
If presented with a conflict of paternity, the court can issue an “order of parentage.” A “Petition to Establish Parentage” gets filed by parents, a guardian or the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
The court will order a paternity test. If the results validate parentage, the court will make decisions based on anything from child support to visitation rights.
Establishing paternity is beneficial to everyone. It ensures a child has both parents in their life. Mothers are not solely burdened with raising the child. And concerned fathers have a bond with their children.