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Establishing paternity in Tennessee

We often discuss child custody and visitation matters in the context of divorce cases. However, increasingly across the U.S. and throughout states like Tennessee, more and more children are being born out of marriage. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, today an estimated 41 percent of all U.S. babies are born to unmarried women.

In cases where a child's parents are not married, a father must take steps to establish legal paternity. Paternity may be established voluntarily by a father and mother or through a court order. Without establishing legal parentage rights, a father is not able to petition for child custody or visitation rights. Additionally, no action can be taken with regard to child support unless and until paternity is established.

If both a child's mother and father are in agreement about paternity, both parents must sign a form known as a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity which is then filed with the court. In cases where one parent disputes paternity, the matter must be decided by the state's Juvenile Court. To either qualify or disqualify paternity, DNA blood testing may be administered. Once paternity is established, a father may take action to gain child custody and visitation rights. Additionally, a mother may petition for child support.

Every child has the right to know and form a relationship with both biological parents. Additionally, every child has the right to receive financial assistance from both parents. Child custody matters are often highly emotional and can quickly grow contentious. It's wise, therefore, that both parents seek legal guidance and assistance when attempting to sort out matters related to paternity, physical and legal custody and visitation.