Do I Have Rights to My Child If I Am Not Married to the Mother?

When the parents of a minor child go through a divorce, it is common knowledge that both parents have rights to the child as well as an ongoing obligation to support the child post-divorce. What happens if you were never legally married though? If you and your child’s other parent decide to end your relationship, where do you stand legally regarding your child? A Murfreesboro divorce attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what rights and obligations you have to a minor child if you were never married to the child’s other parent.

Changing Norms

Just a couple of generations ago it was socially frowned upon – even scandalous in some socio-economic groups – to have a child out of wedlock. Today, however, about 40 percent of all children in the United States are born to unwed parents. As societal norms regarding marriage and parenthood have changed, the laws in most states have changed as well to address the increasing number of parents having children outside the legal bonds of marriage.

Paternity Myths

Although the law has tried to keep up with the changing societal norms, a number of myths and misconceptions regarding the establishment of paternity continue. First, knowing that you are a child’s father is not the same as legally establishing parentage. Legally, a father must establish paternity to a child born out of wedlock in order to be formally acknowledged as the father. Absent the legal establishment of paternity, the mother of a child born out of wedlock has full custodial rights to the child. Second, simply putting the father’s last name on a child’s birth certificate does not legally establish paternity. Finally, establishing paternity benefits both parents and the child. It is not simply a way to ensure that a father pays child support. Establishing paternity does obligate the father to financially support the child; however, it also provides the father with parental rights that he would not have absent the establishment of paternity. Most importantly, it provides the child with a sense of identity and access to potentially crucial medical history and family information.

How Do I Establish Paternity?

In Tennessee, there are two ways in which paternity can be established.  If both parents agree they can sign a legal form referred to as a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAoP) and sign the form in front of a notary public. Ideally, this is accomplished at the hospital at the time the child is born; however, it can be done at any time up until the child reaches the age of 19. 

If one (or both) parents do not agree to signing the VAoP, paternity can be established by a court process. The local child support office can initiate the court process or either parent can do so with the help of an attorney. If there is a question as to who the biological father of the child is, the court can order a DNA test to confirm paternity prior to entering an order.

What Are My Rights Once Paternity Is Established?

Once legal paternity is established, either via the VAoP or through a court order, the father gains the same rights and responsibilities to the child that the mother has. This means that the father has a right to parenting time with the child, the right to communicate with the child, and the right to be informed about important aspects of the child’s life. If the parents decide to end their relationship, they can agree on a parenting plan for the child or they can litigate the matter in court, much like a divorce. Paternity also imposes an obligation to financially support the child until he/she reaches adulthood. Again, if the parents do not live together, the court can impose a child support order to ensure that both parents continue to fulfill their financial obligation to the child.

Contact a Murfreesboro Divorce Attorney 

If you have additional questions or concerns about your rights to a child born out of wedlock in Tennessee, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro divorce attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.


Dinah Michael