Children are a blessing, and we do everything we can to protect them. Going through a lengthy custody battle is never at the top of anyone’s list of things to do in life. We understand that unexpected things in life happen, and it doesn’t always work out the way it was planned, but we’re here to help.
When a father’s rights are contested in Tennessee, having an experienced attorney on your side will give you the best possible chance of keeping your parental rights.
Let’s go over what the father’s parental rights are in Tennessee and how the courts make the custody decisions based on the information they have.
Establishing Paternity in Tennessee
The first thing you must do when you are going into a custody battle is to establish paternity. In Tennessee, paternity is assumed when you are married, meaning in the court’s eyes that you are the legal and biological father of the child in question. Therefore, if you are married to your child’s mother, you will not have to take any further steps to establish paternity.
If you are not married, you will be required to take action to establish paternity in this case. This can be done involuntarily (through a court order) or voluntarily.
Voluntarily Establishing Paternity
To voluntarily establish paternity, the mother and the father need to agree to this process. In addition, both parents will be required to sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity” form.
The form is readily available at most medical centers where children are born, local health departments, child support offices, or the Vital Records office. The form should be filled out, notarized, and brought to the Office of Vital Records.
Once the Vital Records Office has processed the form and determined paternity, the father will be acknowledged by the court as the biological and legal father. The father’s name will then get added to the child’s birth certificate.
This process is relatively straightforward, but if one parent does not agree or denies paternity, then establishing paternity turns into a more complex situation.
Involuntarily Establishing Paternity
If you or the other party does not agree or deny the paternity of the child, you’ll need to file the “Petition to Establish Parentage.” You can start with the Tennessee Department of Human Services – Establishing Paternity.
The mother, possible father, the child, or the Department of Human Services (if the child is getting assistance) can file this petition through the county court where they live.
The court will have the option to order a DNA test to prove who the child’s biological father is. A DNA test will require a health professional to obtain a DNA sample via a swab from inside the cheek of the possible father, child, and mother. The DNA samples will then be sent off to a lab for further testing to see if the DNA from the father matches the DNA from the child.
If the DNA matches, the court will then rule paternity in this case, and the father’s name will be added to the child’s birth certificate.
Rights to Child Custody & Visitation
In Tennessee, the judge will always rule in favor of the child’s best interest. The judge will look at both parents on equal grounds to figure out visitation and custody rights.
The judge will factor in:
- Ability to Physically Care for the Child
- Ability to Mentally Care for the Child
- Financial Stability
- Willingness to Keep a Relationship with the Child and Other Parent
- History of Abuse (if any)
How Child Custody Decisions Are Made in Tennessee
Unless the parents have agreed upon visitation and custody agreements, the courts in Tennessee will award the “custody, care, and control” of the children to one or both parents.
A primary factor when looking at this will be dependent on if one parent has abandoned their child for long periods. If any parent has abandoned their child for 1.5 years or longer, the judge will rule with the other parent. The parent who has left their child will have extremely limited custody and visitation rights.
Hunter Attorney Fowler is Dedicated to Protecting Your Rights as a Father
The main concepts and principles of the Tennessee child support laws remain the same as before. However, it’s important to be aware of this year’s revisions and how they may affect you. If you have questions about child support or child custody, contact experienced family law attorney Hunter Fowler. Hunter has experience handling the most delicate of child custody and child support cases, including those involving divorce, unwed parents, and questionable paternity and he’s dedicated to fighting for you and your family.