Having a child outside of marriage is becoming increasingly common. In Tennessee, about 40% of children are born to unmarried mothers. However, this situation can make it difficult for an unmarried father to exercise his rights over his child. Because the state does not recognize an unwed father as a legal parent by default, they must establish paternity before assuming parental responsibilities.
Fathers may accomplish this in one of two ways:
Voluntarily acknowledging paternity
Because the procedure typically involves the unmarried mother, establishing paternity is considerably simpler when both parents do not doubt that the child is theirs. Parents can start the process on their own using the state’s voluntary acknowledgment of paternity program. It requires completing a form, the signatures of both the child’s parents and a notary public.
In most cases, parents fill out the form at the hospital after delivery, but they can also choose to do so at a later time.
Upon completion, a father can add his name to the child’s birth certificate and let the child take on his name if both parents agree. This legal process also grants him parental rights.
Seeking a court order to establish paternity
Establishing paternity becomes complex when one of the parents denies paternity. Any doubts about the child’s parentage can make one party refuse to sign the acknowledgment form and force the other to take legal action.
Unwed fathers who want to pursue their parental rights may file a petition with the court in the county where either the mother, father or child lives. The court may request genetic tests, testimony from both parents and other evidence to establish paternity.
If the court determines that a man is a child’s biological father, it will issue an order establishing parentage. It may also require his name on the child’s birth certificate.
Many men long for the opportunity to become fathers. Fatherhood provides them a chance to grow, share their wisdom and provide unending love. Having a father also benefits the child.
Unfortunately, getting the law to acknowledge parent legally is not always easy. Unmarried fathers struggling to prove their paternity may speak with an attorney to learn about their options.