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As the Father of an Out-of-Wedlock Child, What Rights Do You Have?

If you aren’t married to the mother of your child, what kind of rights can you expect to be able to assert, as the father? This article looks at common questions that come up, and explains what the law has to say about them.

When you have a child out of wedlock, and you’re no longer romantically involved with the mother, it can be confusing, trying to understand what legal rights you have as the father of the child. It’s common to have questions in many areas. What follows are brief answers to some of these common questions, as they apply to unwed fathers in the state of Tennessee.

Who gets custody of your child if you aren’t married to the mother?

Unmarried mothers in Tennessee are automatically granted custody of their child until the father is able to prove his paternity. Once you are able to establish paternity, however, you have the same legal standing as the father in any marriage.

If the mother of your child doesn’t welcome your presence in the child’s life, you could need to petition the court to gain recognition as the father, by law. When you obtain recognition, you’re able to ask the court for help in asserting your parental rights. Once you petition the court and submit an affidavit to offer reasonable context to your claim of paternity, the court orders genetic testing and sets in motion the process required to ascertain the fact that you’re the father.

Can you have your child take your last name?

Once it’s established that you’re the father, you might feel the natural desire to have your child adopt your last name. It can come with considerable satisfaction to see your name carried down through the generations. If it was a challenge having the mother accept that you were the father, you may find resistance when it comes to getting your child to adopt your last name, as well. You can petition the court to help you in this area, but you’ll need to prove in court that the name change would be in the child’s best interests. The court also makes sure that such a name change passes scrutiny in the following ways:

  • The child likes the idea of a name change.
  • The name change won’t cause acrimony between mother and child.
  • The degree of respect that the child receives in society in keeping their current name is undiminished.

Can you be an involved father even once the mother marries?             

If the mother of your child marries someone else, you may still be able to assert your right to your status as the child’s father. TN Code § 36-2-304 (2019) states that you can rely on automatic presumption of paternity in the following circumstances:

  • You’ve taken a paternity test, and were shown to be the father to a 95% degree of certainty.
  • Your child lived with you in the past, and you openly admitted to being the child’s father.
  • Your name is mentioned on the birth certificate as the father of the child.

Do you get parenting time as a right?

Once you’re able to legally assert that you are the father, and obtain a court order to that effect, you are able to petition the court to set out a parenting time agreement that includes you. You may work out a system with the mother of the child, and request the court for either physical custody, or visitation rights.

If you’re interested in spending time with your child, and in being able to influence the values they learn, the law may be able to help you, whether the mother wishes to see it happen, or not. When you work with an experienced Tennessee family lawyer, you should be able to make use of the provisions of the law to protect your parental rights.