Tennessee Law for Granting Custody to People Who Are Not Married

By Alisa Stevens

Tennessee child custody statutes overwhelmingly support the mother in cases where the parents of a child are not married. Although an unmarried mother's name on a child's birth certificate is sufficient proof of her custodial rights, it is not the same for an unmarried father. Even if he's named on the birth certificate, this only proves his relationship to the child; it does not assign any custody rights. A mother's right to custody is automatic under Tennessee law, whereas the unmarried father must initiate juvenile court proceedings in order to gain custody rights.

Tennessee child custody statutes overwhelmingly support the mother in cases where the parents of a child are not married. Although an unmarried mother's name on a child's birth certificate is sufficient proof of her custodial rights, it is not the same for an unmarried father. Even if he's named on the birth certificate, this only proves his relationship to the child; it does not assign any custody rights. A mother's right to custody is automatic under Tennessee law, whereas the unmarried father must initiate juvenile court proceedings in order to gain custody rights.

Mother's Rights

Under Tennessee Code Section 36-2-303, an unwed mother automatically gains custody of her child upon birth. No legal action is necessary to assert her custodial rights. She is solely responsible for providing for the child's needs and making decisions regarding the child's residence, medical care and education. Unless a court-ordered custody agreement states otherwise, it is her decision whether or not the father can see the child and what part he plays in the child's life.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Father's Rights

Unlike an unmarried mother, the child's father has no presumptive right of custody to the child. As a result, he has no authority to make any legal or physical custodial decisions related to the child's care. Although an acknowledgment of paternity by the parents is helpful, this alone does not establish any paternal custodial or visitation rights without court intervention. The unmarried father must petition a Tennessee juvenile court for parenting time and physical and legal custody of the child.

Paternity Claim

An unmarried father can establish paternity by filing a complaint to establish parentage with a juvenile court in Tennessee. The parents can voluntarily acknowledge paternity through hospital documents or it can be determined through genetic testing. Tennessee courts accept genetic testing results submitted by parents or, in the case of a dispute, order genetic testing of the mother, father and child. Once paternity is established, courts can evaluate the situation based on the best interests of the child to determine custody.

Best Interest of the Child

Tennessee courts make custody decisions based on the "best interests of the child” standard. Under Tennessee Code 36-6-106, judges evaluate several factors before granting custody to the father. These factors include (1) the relationship between the parents and child; (2) parental stability, including the parents' mental health, physical health and ability to provide for the child's needs; and (3) any evidence of domestic violence or child abuse. In addition, the judge will take into consideration the opinions and preferences of children age 12 or older.

Custody Disputes

Although a child's father can file a petition for custody, Tennessee courts are unlikely to remove a child completely from her mother's care. Generally, a successful paternity action for an unmarried father results in visitation rights. In order to gain full custody, the unwed father must show that he is the better, more stable parent and it would be in the child's best interests to remove her from her mother's care. Reasons to change custody include suspicion of maternal child abuse or dependent neglect.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
The Custody of Kids When Not Married in Mississippi

References

Resources

Related articles

How to Change the Father's Name on a Birth Certificate in Missouri

If you are the biological father of a child but are not named on the child's birth certificate, you face significant legal ramifications -- the mother may put the child up for adoption without notifying you, for example, and you can lose all rights to custody. In Missouri, there are two ways to have the child's birth certificate amended to list you as the father -- by executing an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity and by filing a civil action in court. Executing an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity is the easiest and most convenient method, as long as you can obtain the mother's cooperation.

Custody Laws for Underage Parents in Pennsylvania

In an effort to provide family court judges with clearer guidelines when making custody decisions, Pennsylvania made a few changes to its child care laws in January 2011. These changes were aimed at ensuring both parents had equal rights to custody, regardless of gender. However, in reality, when a baby is born to teen parents, a custodial precedent is created that might be hard for the father to overcome.

What Rights Does a Father Have to His Children If He Doesn't Pay Child Support?

A father's obligation to pay child support and his parental right to be involved in his child's life are two separate and distinct issues under the law. It has long been established that not only do parents have a fundamental right in the "care, custody and control" of their children, it is also is in the "best interests of the child" to have a relationship with both parents, unless circumstances deem otherwise. Therefore, a father's custody and visitation rights are not contingent upon whether he's paying child support. He has a right to be in his child's life simply because of who he is: the child's father.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Child Custody Rights for Mothers in California

Parents' custody rights vary from state to state. Historically, courts favored mothers when granting custody, but ...

What Are a Father's Custodial Rights Before Custody Hearings?

When a father is married to his child's biological mother, the court presumes he is the child's biological father. ...

Dad's Rights to Sole Custody

Fathers had few rights in custody battles in the 20th century. That changed somewhat in the millennium. However, the ...

Arizona State Laws: Title 13 Custody for Unwed Mothers

Arizona state law clearly outlines the requirements for parental custody. The legislature grants unwed mothers custody ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED