A stereotypical image of an unmarried couple having a child shows the mother bearing full responsibility for the upbringing while the father attempts to avoid both financial and parenting duties. Although this may be true in individual cases, there are an increasing number of Tennessee couples having children out of wedlock where the father desires to and fully expects to be part of the child's life. However, that may not happen without a fight.
According to state law, when a child is born to an unmarried couple, the mother has both physical custody and legal custody at birth. The father must first establish paternity before any parental rights attach. Paternity is not established by including the father's name on the birth certificate but may be established through acknowledgement, agreement, court order or DNA testing. However, establishing paternity does not automatically mean the father has visitation or custody rights.
The father must petition the family law court to grant access to his child. The overriding standard for judges in determining custody rights is the best interests of the child. While theoretically that means consistent and significant contact with both parents, judges seem to require a greater showing from unmarried fathers than other men in granting custody rights. Factors the court will weigh include where and in what manner the father lives, the father's ability to provide for the child, the needs of the child and any other relevant factors the court sees fit to consider.
Fathers' rights continue to be a contentious issue in family law, especially for unmarried couples. A family law attorney may explain how a paternity test may be necessary in the process of establishing child custody rights.