child custody

Unmarried Parents and Child Custody in Tennessee: What You Need to Know

Having a child can be one of the most amazing experiences for parents. However, having a child before you are married can leave some parents, mainly fathers, worried and filled with uncertainty about what their rights are regarding the child. And if the parents aren’t romantically involved any longer, things can get even more complicated.

If you have had a child out of wedlock in Tennessee, or you are an expectant parent preparing for your child’s birth, it’s essential to know what steps you must take to be considered the child’s parent in the eyes of the law. This article will discuss some topics surrounding child custody laws, paternity, and other frequently asked questions regarding child custody in Tennessee.

Who Has Custody of the Child When You’re Unmarried?

A mother who has a child before marriage automatically has legal and physical custody of the child. However, regardless of whether or not his name is on the birth certificate, a father has to prove paternity and go through the courts to establish paternity per Tennessee Code § 36-2-304.

Due to the obstacles an unmarried father can face when attempting to establish paternity, it’s essential to seek advice from a family law attorney. Having an experienced professional guiding you on the proper steps to secure your rights and ensure they are enforced is vital.

How Do You Establish Paternity?

If you want to be part of your child’s life, but their mother isn’t allowing it, you have the right to petition the court to be legally designated as the child’s father. Being designated as the child’s father by the law will allow you to enforce your parental rights when necessary.

Before petitioning the courts for custody of your child, you must first establish paternity. The father will submit an affidavit to the court requesting to establish paternity. The affidavit will ask detailed questions that the court will use to decide if there is a reasonable probability that you are the child’s father. The court will then order both parents and the child to undergo genetic testing.

When Paternity is Determined, Will My Child Be Given My Last Name?

When you have a child, you may have the hope that they will carry on the family name. However, the mother of a child born out of wedlock has the sole discretion of choosing the child’s last name. So if you’ve had to fight for your parental right to your child, you may have a hard time getting the last name changed.

If you cannot come to a decision with the mother before or after your child’s birth, you will be required to petition the court to change your child’s last name. Doing so doesn’t mean that you will succeed. You will be required to prove that it’s in the best interest of the child to change their name.

There are certain factors that the court will consider when deciding if a name change is in the child’s best interest.

  • Child’s preference
  • The effect of the name change on the child’s relationship with each parent
  • How long the child has had their present surname
  • Degree of community respect for each surname
  • If the child will experience difficulty, embarrassment, or harassment for having either last name

Do My Parental Rights Change if My Child’s Mother Gets Married?

If your child’s mother gets married, it’s understandable that you may be nervous about losing your role as your child’s father. There are circumstances in which you can be established as the putative father, which guarantees your right to raise your child and remain in their life despite the marital status of the child’s mother.

You are the child’s presumed father if:

  • The child is born within 300 days before your marriage to the mother is deemed invalid, or your divorce is finalized
  • You attempted to marry the other, but it was declared illegal, void, or voidable, and you have:
    •  Acknowledged paternity in writing filed under the putative father registry under Tennessee Code § 36-2-318
    • Consented to be named the father on the birth certificate in writing
    • Must pay child support by court order or a written voluntary promise
  • You have openly held the child as your biological child, and they have lived in your home as a minor
  • You took a paternity test and there was a 95% or greater chance that the child was yours

What Are My Rights Regarding Parenting Time?

Once you have established paternity and the court has issued an order to that effect, you can then petition the court for a custody hearing. The custody hearing will determine who the primary residential parent will be and set up a parenting time arrangement.

The courts will allow you to work with your child’s mother to develop a parenting plan and schedule, but if the two of you can’t agree, the courts will come up with a plan in the child’s best interest.

Still Have Questions? Hunter Fowler Can Help!

If you want to spend time with your children and take part in how they are raised, establishing paternity will allow you to do so, whether or not the child’s mother agrees. Working with an experienced family law attorney can ensure that your parental rights are protected.

Attorney Hunter Fowler knows that you want nothing but the best for your children. That’s why he prioritizes your family and children’s needs when he works with you. Hunter Fowler can walk you through the legal process to establish parental rights or develop the best parenting plan possible for your family.

Contact Hunter today to schedule a consultation.