Father's Rights in Tennessee
Establishing paternity is your first step in getting father’s rights to your child.

The bond parents form with their child is instant and important. Children rely on their parents for support, care, and encouragement throughout the first several years of their lives and beyond. Since parents play such an important role in their child’s life and their involvement is key to their child’s development, states like Tennessee have created laws that not only guarantee children receive the support they need but also protect parents’ rights to a relationship with their children. When issues regarding these relationships arise, the parties involved usually find themselves in Tennessee family law court.

Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life

Mothers have always been regarded as a child’s primary caregiver and support – this is due in large part to the traditional family structure where the father worked to earn a living and the mother stayed home to raise the children. While this is still the structure for some modern families, an emphasis has also been placed on the important role fathers play in their child’s life. Fathers are just as capable of caring for and supporting children as their female counterparts, and additional research has shown fathers play an even more crucial role in how their child develops than ever thought before.

Some research suggests that children who have a loving, involved father in their lives do better academically, not to mention they have an easier time developing social skills. Studies have also shown there is a potential link between having an involved father and how a child develops language. With this information now available to family court systems, more and more judges are moving toward awarding joint custody or ample visitation time for fathers to keep them present and involved in their child’s life for the sake of that child’s wellbeing.

Establishing Paternity in Tennessee

One of the first steps in dealing with any child custody or child support issues in the family court system is establishing paternity. “Paternity” is the legal name for fatherhood, and in the state of Tennessee, paternity is only assumed when the parents are married – when a married couple has a child, it is assumed under the law that the mother’s husband is the child’s legal and biological father. When parents are married, they do not need to take any additional steps to establish paternity, but when parents are not married, they need to take action in order to do so.

When both the child’s mother and the alleged father agree as to the identity of the child’s biological father, they can use a voluntary process to establish paternity. To do so, the parents must sign a form known as a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity.” This form is generally available at the medical center where the child is born or can be obtained later at the local health department, child support office, or the Office of Vital Records. The form needs to be filled out by the parents and signed in the presence of a notary before it can be filed with the appropriate office.

Once the form has been signed and notarized, it can be filed with the Office of Vital Records. Once this form is processed, the father is officially considered the child’s legal and biological father, and his name can be added to the child’s birth certificate. Since both parents agree on the child’s paternity, the voluntary process of establishing paternity is straightforward and simple. However, when one or more parties involved are not in agreement or one parent is denying paternity, another process needs to be followed to establish the child’s paternity.

Involuntarily establishing paternity is completed through a court proceeding after one party files a “Petition to Establish Parentage.” The child’s mother, alleged father, the Department of Human Services (if the child is receiving assistance), or the child him or herself can file this petition with the county court for the county in which the mother, alleged father, or child live. If either the child’s mother or alleged father is uncertain or is denying the child’s paternity, the court has the option to order a DNA or genetic test to scientifically prove who the child’s biological father is.

During this test, the mother, child, and alleged father are all tested using a swab from the inside of their cheek. This swab is then sent to a lab for testing, which determines if the alleged father is a DNA match for the child. If the alleged father is proven to be the child’s biological father, the court then makes an order of paternity, and the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate. Once paternity has been established, the court can then move to make other determinations regarding the child, such as child custody and child support, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case.

Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation

When it comes to child custody arrangements, judges in the state of Tennessee are guided by the “best interests of the child” standard. Essentially, this means that the judge is guided into making determinations regarding TN child custody and other issues based on what is best for the child over what the mother and father wish to happen. Often, judges work toward developing a joint custody agreement, which would allow the child to share time with the mother and father equally. While this is ideal, joint custody is not an option in every situation, so a primary custodian needs to be named.

When the judge is deciding who the child’s primary custodian will be, he or she begins an evaluation with the mother and father on equal ground, meaning that one parent does not have an advantage based on gender. The judge looks at several different factors to determine the appropriate primary custodian, or parent who will have the child most of the time. Even in custody situations where a primary custodian is necessary, the judge works to order ample visitation time to keep both parents involved in the child’s life and preserve the child/parent relationship.

Another obstacle that needs to be tackled in primary custody agreements is the issue of child support. Child support is a payment from a non-custodial parent to the custodial payment to help pay for the needs of the child including shelter, clothing, and food. Regardless of who the primary custodian is, he or she has the right to petition the court for a child support order.

How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help

Family law in the state of Tennessee can be complicated and difficult to navigate without the proper advisor. This is why it is important for fathers facing paternity, child custody, or child support issues to enlist the help of a knowledge family and father’s rights attorney. These legal professionals often play a key role in how these issues move through the family court system and can thoroughly explain their client’s rights. Having the proper representation could mean the difference between a father having ample time with his child and not being able to maintain a relationship.

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