Tennessee Child Custody for Parents Never Married to Each Other
Many parents have a child or children together, although the parents were never married to each other. Hopefully, this guide will shed some light on Tennessee law surrounding custody among parents that were never married to each other.
Mother's RightsUnder Tennessee law, an unwed mother has a presumptive right of custody. In other words, custody is automatically granted to her upon the birth of the child. She does not have to take any action to gain custody of her child. The child is the sole responsibility of the mother. She is responsible for making all the decisions regarding the child, including housing, education, and medical care. Unless there is a court order stating otherwise, it is the mother's decision whether or not the father can see the child.
Father's RightsUnder Tennessee law, unlike an unwed mother, an unwed father has no presumptive right of custody. In other words, the father must take action in order to gain custody. Although an unwed father's name may appear on the child's birth certificate, this only proves his relationship to the child; it does not grant him any custody rights. The unwed father must file a petition in juvenile court in order to gain parenting time and custody.
Establishing PaternityAn unwed father must establish paternity by filing a Petition to Establish Parentage with a Tennessee Juvenile Court. The parents can voluntarily acknowledge paternity or it can be determined through genetic testing. Parents can submit their genetic test results to the court, or, in disputed matters, the Court can order genetic testing of the mother, father and child. Once paternity is established, the court can determine custody based on the best interest of the child.
Best Interest of the ChildThe court determines custody based on the "best interests of the child" standard. The factors that make up the "best interests of the child" standard include, but are not limited to the following: 1) Relationship between the parent and child; 2) The parent's ability to provide child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care; 3) The mental and physical health of a parent; 4) The character and behavior of anyone who resides or frequents the child's home; 5) The child's wishes, if the child is 12 years of age or older.