When faced with child custody issues as unwed parents in Tennessee you can easily feel overwhelmed by the law and the uncertainty the situation may cause. We also understand that Tennessee law language can be ambiguous and often difficult to understand at a glance.
Tennessee law has simple standards in place to recognize child custody for married couples. When the child is born, the state automatically acknowledges the mother’s husband as the father. By automatically acknowledging the mother, it helps resolve potential issues in the future should the couple choose to divorce, like custody and child support.
But how does Tennessee law treat child custody for unwed parents? Unfortunately, the current rules in place aren’t as straightforward as the ones for married couples. However, learning about them before deciding to separate from your partner can remove some of the complexity and surprises that can come with the process.
We’re going to share with you the most significant child custody issues unwed parents face in Tennessee.
Getting Recognized as the Father
Tennessee doesn’t automatically award parental rights to fathers who aren’t married at the time of their child’s birth. Unless you are named the father on the newborn’s birth certificate, you’ll need to make a court case for your parental rights. A family law attorney can help you navigate this process.
To begin the process, you need to confirm that you are the child’s biological father. You can do this with a simple DNA test, which you can request from the court. From here, you collaborate with the mother on how you want to exercise your rights. For example, you can establish visitation and custody schedules. However, if the relationship between the two of you isn’t agreeable, your family law attorney can strategize with you to best handle the legal process.
Another option is for you and the mother to sign a voluntary acknowledgment of parenting when your child is born. This is a simple form available at the hospital that, once notarized, establishes you as the father. Your attorney can help you file it with the proper authorities to be recognized by the state.
Why Establish Paternity?
It’s not uncommon for unmarried couples to choose to agree to co-parent informally and without establishing the father’s paternity in any way. This is commonplace in young couples who aren’t aware of the underlying complexities of family law. They choose this method because it’s much easier, and often they don’t foresee their relationship ending.
But even the most loving couples may find themselves at crossroads and choose to separate. They won’t need to go through the divorce process’ intricacies, but they’re still affected by the complications ensuing custody issues. Establishing paternity beforehand is the best way to mitigate these problems.
When an unwed couple separates, the mother remains the sole parent, regardless of whatever informal agreement was in place before. As the father, regardless of the time you and your partner spent together, you aren’t entitled to be a part of the child’s life in any way, nor are you required to pay child support. Unlike Tennessee divorce laws, which have standards for calculating custody, visitation, and child support, there are no comparable laws in place for unwed couples.
Men who want to establish themselves as a child’s father after a break-up often assume that they are in for an uphill battle. In Tennessee (and the United States as a whole), there’s a lingering idea that mothers have an advantage over fathers when it comes to issues regarding child custody and parenting.
The idea that mothers have an advantage over fathers is false, and there are still options available to the father to establish paternity and exercise parental rights, even after he and the mother are separated.
In the case of unwed parents, even when there are hostilities between the two, involved parties (and in some cases, the state) can petition a court to order DNA testing. The mother or the alleged father can do this, and a judge can order a test regardless of objections from either party.
If the test proves the man is the father, the court will award parental rights and have his name added to the child’s birth certificate. From there, it’s time to resolve lingering child custody issues, either through court proceedings or legally-binding collaborative agreements between the parents.
Family law attorneys will often recommend the legally-binding collaborative agreements between parents, especially in situations where parents remain on good terms because it allows for greater flexibility in terms of the agreement.
If it falls on a judge to make these decisions, you have limited opportunities to appeal their final decision and must live by it or risk severe consequences.
Call on the Professionals for Help!
Fathers, married or not, have rights, and Hunter Fowler wants to fight for yours. With expertise in Tennessee divorce laws and custody laws, including terminating parental rights, uncontested divorce, paternity and child custody disputes between unmarried couples, experienced Tennessee attorney Hunter Fowler is ready to help you establish and assert your parental rights in even the most difficult legal situations.
Contact the offices of divorce attorney Hunter Fowler today, so you don’t have to go through this journey alone. He’s here to listen and guide you through the legal process and win the best possible outcome for you and your family.