For the most part, all unmarried dads are allowed to negotiate custody and visitation rights. Courts generally agree that if it is in the best interests of the child, both parents should be involved in a child's life. However, if one parent believes that a child's relationship with the other parent could be destructive, they could petition the court to hear their case.
While laws vary from state to state, Tennessee unwed fathers have the choice to sing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity when their child is born at the hospital. This form might also be signed later through the Health Department or a child support office. If one parent questions paternity, however, DNA testing will be required.
If parents agree both should be involved in a child's life, the pair might work on a parenting plan together. They could discuss and detail certain aspects of sharing their child, such as visitation schedules or maybe a shared custody solution. Parents can also ask for the agreement to be part of the court order.
When parents cannot reach an agreement, either party can petition the court for help. In cases where the mother is already raising the child, it is not easy for a father to get sole custody. It might take proving to a court that the mom is an unfit parent or that the father has been the child's leading parent.
Child custody issues can be complicated. Each parent may want to be represented by their own family law attorney who can explain state laws on child custody. With help from a lawyer, it may be easier for a dad to establish his rights.