In Tennessee – and in most other states – in order for both parents to have the right to sue for custody, request parenting time/visitation with a child or ask for child support, the child in question must have both a legal mother and a legal father. Maternity is, obviously, easy enough to figure out, but if the parents are unmarried at the time of delivery, it might be necessary to determine paternity for the father to have legal rights and responsibilities.

Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity

Both Tennessee statutes and public policy encourage fathers to voluntarily acknowledge paternity wherever appropriate. That is why the process is relatively simple. A public, declarative action by the putative father, like signing the child’s birth certificate, agreeing to pay child support or acknowledging in writing that the child belongs to him is usually sufficient evidence of his intent to accept paternity. Once a father voluntarily admits paternity, he has the same “claim” to the child as the mother, including the right to seek custody, spend quality time together, pay child support (or seek it if he is awarded custody), make decisions on behalf of the child and provide for the child’s physical needs (housing, food, healthcare, etc.).

Legal actions for paternity

If a mother wants financial support for the care and upbringing of a child who does not have a legal father named, she must initiate a paternity action. Should the suggested man not acknowledge paternity, then genetic testing will be done to determine whether or not the father and child are biologically related. If a match is found, then the mother can proceed with her request for child support.

Fathers also have the right to initiate paternity actions if they want to forge a relationship with a child they believe to be theirs by seeking custody or parenting time. If the mother disputes the father’s claim of paternity, genetic testing will be performed, during which a putative father is determined to be the child’s legal father or is excluded as a candidate.

Should the mother of the child be interested in receiving state aid like food stamps, TennCare/Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the state of Tennessee can initiate its own paternity action, and can order genetic testing without the mother having to file her own legal claim.

Are you a putative father interested in spending time with your child and having the right to offer input on how he or she is raised? Are you a mother who wants her child to have a legal father so that much-needed support can be ordered? If so – or if you have any other questions about the Tennessee paternity process – speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.

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