Child custody may be the most emotional and most critical part of a divorce, but many people who have never been married also may face child custody battles. Whether the parents are married and getting a divorce, or have never been married, both parents in a custody case face emotional turmoil and apprehension regarding the custody and future of their child or children.
If the parents are married when a child is born or the child is born within a certain number of days of the divorce of the parents, the husband is presumed under Tennessee law to be the father of the child. If the husband or the wife claims that the child is not the biological child of the husband, DNA testing can be conducted to determine the paternity of the child. Similarly, if the parents are not married and were not married at the time of the conception of the child, DNA testing can be conducted to determine paternity. A man can also assume or acknowledge paternity of the child by executing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity at the hospital or shortly after the birth of the child. Executing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity makes the signor the legal father of the child.
Paternity may be claimed and established by filing a Petition with the appropriate court. The Petition may be filed by either the father or the mother.
Both the father and the mother have equal rights to their children unless a court has determined otherwise. Tennessee has a “parents bill of rights” which gives both parents certain rights including the right to spend time with their children, to have unimpeded telephone calls with their children, to send mail to their children, to have access to school and medical records, information about extracurricular activities and events of the children, and the right to be free of unwarranted derogatory remarks made about the parent in the presence of the children, and other rights. Also, in July 2011 Tennessee law (T.C.A. 36-3-106) was modified and now “the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child” (emphasis added).
A father’s rights cannot be terminated without notice to him and without certain specific legal reasons which must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. If you have questions about father’s rights or child custody then consult with an experienced family law attorney.