In the United States, about 40 percent of all births are to unwed parents. While some of those births are the result of an accidental pregnancy, many are intentional birth to parents who have chosen not to legally marry. Regardless of how or why a child is born out of wedlock, the law confers different rights on the father of a child born to unwed parents than it does to a father who was legally married to the mother at the time of birth. If you are the father of a child born out of wedlock, a Murfreesboro child custody attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains how to establish paternity to ensure that your rights are protected.
What Is Paternity and Why Does It Matter?
Understandably, people are often confused when the issue of paternity is discussed. “Paternity” is a legal concept that refers to the legal establishment of the identity of a child’s father. A man may be certain he is the father of a child, and the mother may agree; however, knowing that a man is a child’s biological father is not the same as legally establishing paternity.
If the mother and father have no doubt regarding the biological relationship between the child and the father, why is establishing paternity important? There are several reasons why establishing legal paternity matters, including:
- Father’s rights. The relationship between the mother and father of a child born out of wedlock may remain intact forever…or it could fall apart at some time. If the mother and father split up, the father will not have any legal rights to the child if paternity was not established. In a worst-case scenario, the father would not even have the right to parenting time with the child.
- Father’s responsibilities. Under that same scenario that has the parents breaking up, the father has no legal responsibility to contribute financially to the care and maintenance of the child if paternity was never established.
- Inheritance. A child born out of wedlock for whom paternity was never established may not have the right to inherit from the father’s estate.
- Practical considerations. Everyday tasks that parents take for granted, such as the ability to get a copy of a child’s birth certificate, enroll the child in school, or consent to medical care, will be impossible for the father of a child for whom paternity has not been established.
Steps for Establishing Paternity in Tennessee
Tennessee Code Section 36-2-304 governs parentage of a child born to married parents. According to that statute, there is a presumption (rebuttable) of parentage when “the man and the child’s mother are married or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage or within three hundred (300) days after the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce.”
Contrary to what many people believe, simply putting a man’s name down as a child’s father on the child’s birth certificate does not establish paternity unless the parents were married at the time of birth. To legally establish paternity, one of the following is required:
- Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. Both parents can voluntarily sign an affidavit (Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity) that is signed in front of a notary and establishes paternity.
- Court Order. A court can enter an order establishing paternity. This typically occurs when a case is opened questioning paternity and the putative father agrees that he is, in fact, the father.
- DNA Test. If the mother, father, or both parents are unsure whether a man is the child’s father, a DNA test can be conducted to determine whether the man is the child’s biological father. If the test concludes that he is the father, the court will enter an order establishing paternity.
Contact a Murfreesboro Child Custody Attorney
If you have additional questions about establishing paternity in Tennessee, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro custody attorney as soon as possible. Contact the team at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.
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