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Why is it important to establish paternity?

Many U.S. children are born to unwed mothers. In some cases, a child’s mother and father are together and in a committed relationship. In other cases, a mother and father are estranged or no longer together. Regardless of the relationship between unwed parents, all children have the right to know and be provided with emotional and financial support from both parents.

In the eyes of the law, an unwed father who fails to establish paternity has no legal rights to a child. It's imperative, therefore, that even fathers who are in committed relationships with a child's mother take steps to establish paternity.

In Tennessee, paternity can be established either voluntarily or by court order. To establish paternity, an unwed father, along with the biological mother, must sign and file a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity. This can be done immediately following a child's birth and while still at the hospital or at a later date until a child turns age 21.

It's important to establish paternity for a variety of reasons. For fathers, establishing paternity allows a father the legal right to seek legal child custody or visitation rights. For a mother, establishing paternity affords one the legal right to file for child support.

In cases where paternity is disputed, a biological mother can file a paternity suit. A genetic test using tissue samples from the mother, child and alleged father are then taken to determine paternity. In cases where paternity is confirmed, a court order may be entered requiring the legal father to pay child support.

An attorney may be able to provide assistance in a number of paternity-related matters including establishing paternity, paternity disputes, child custody disputes and visitation order modifications.

Source: Tennessee Department of Human Services “Tennessee Child Support Handbook," June, 2013