Murfreesboro divorce attorney

Does a Father Have Rights to a Child Born Out of Wedlock?

As a father, you undoubtedly know that your marital status at the time your child was born is not what defines you as a father. Unfortunately, however, it could impact your legal rights as a father. A Murfreesboro custody attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains your rights if you are the fatherMurfreesboro divorce attorney of a child born out of wedlock.

Societal Norms Have Changed

There was a time when society stigmatized a child born out of wedlock. Over the last several decades, however, societal attitudes have changed dramatically. Today, almost 40 percent of all children born in the United States are born to an unwed mother, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The pressure to marry before having a child is not the issue it once was. Consequently, the stigma that once attached to a child born to unwed parents has largely disappeared. While societal norms have changed regarding children born to unmarried parents, having a child out of wedlock can still present hurdles when it comes to the legal rights and obligations of the parents.

Who Has Custody of a Child Born to an Unwed Mother?

The first question most fathers have when they have a child out of wedlock is who has custody of the child? In the State of Tennessee, as is the case in most states, the mother of a child born out of wedlock has full custodial rights to the child at the time of the child’s birth.  For a father to have any rights to the child, the father must legally establish paternity. Contrary to what many people believe, putting your name on a child’s birth certificate is not sufficient to legally establish paternity. There are two ways to legally establish paternity in Tennessee.  The first, and simplest, way to establish paternity is for both parents to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. Typically, the hospital where the child is born will have the form available. You can also find the form at your local Health Department, Child Support Office, or the State Office of Vital Records. If there is some doubt about paternity, or if either parent is unwilling to voluntarily establish paternity, legal paternity must be determined through a court process that will usually involve DNA testing. 

Fathers Rights Once Paternity Is Established

Once paternity has been established, all legal rights of a parent are conferred to the father. At the same time, all the legal obligations of parenthood also attach to the father. If the parents live together, whether married or not, the legal rights of the father are typically not a point of contention. If, however, the parents are no longer together, those legal rights become important. Although the legal procedure is not exactly the same, the parents of a child born out of wedlock must decide some of the same issues that married parents address in a divorce.  One parent will be the child’s “primary residential parent (PRP)” while the other parent is referred to as the “alternative residential parent (ARP).” The PRP is the parent with whom the child lives the majority of the time. The parents must create a parenting plan that includes a parenting time (what was once referred to as “visitation”) schedule. Although a mother has full legal custody of a child born out of wedlock prior to the establishment of legal paternity, once legal paternity has been established either parent has the legal right to petition to be the primary residential parent. Moreover, the law no longer allows a presumption in favor of the mother when deciding who will be the PRP. Absent a court order to the contrary, a father also has a variety of other rights, including the right to communicate with the child, to access school and medical records, and to object to the mother relocating with the child. 

Contact a Murfreesboro Custody Attorney

If you have additional questions about your rights as a father, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro custody attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Stan Bennett