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When the parents of a child are married, they are automatically granted parental rights. When the parents are unmarried though, they may struggle to gain their fair parental rights. Tennessee has a number of laws that apply to unmarried parents. Find out more about these laws, and how they affect your rights as an unmarried parent.


In a marriage, it is presumed that the husband is the father of all the children produced by the marriage. The presumption can be challenged by a DNA test, however. If the parents are unmarried, parentage can be established by filing a petition with the court. The petition can be filed by the mother, biological father, putative father, child, or the government. Once parentage is established, the child is considered legitimate and child support can be ordered.

Parentage can also be established through voluntary acknowledgment of parentage. The parents can provide an agreement on the child's parentage. This agreement will allow the court to make decisions regarding child support, visitation, and custody.


After parentage has been established, fathers can petition the court for parenting time or residential custody. The judge will decide the custody arrangement based on what will serve the best interests of the child. There are several factors the court will weigh as they determine the best arrangement for the child and what will allow both parents to participate in the child's life. These factors include:

  • The location of each parent's home.

  • The nature of the child's relationship with each parent.

  • Each parent's past caregiving roles and responsibilities.

  • Each parent's ability to provide for the child.

  • The emotional relationship between each parent and the child.

  • The child's emotional needs.

  • Other special considerations that would affect the child.


When parentage has not been formally established, the rights of the non-custodial parent are often limited. They may have limited parenting time or visitation rights with the child. The custodial parent may have a difficult time receiving child support from the other parent without a court order. Once parentage has been established, either through voluntary acknowledgment or DNA testing, both parents gain more rights.

A court can issue a child support order to allow the custodial parent to receive support payments from the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent can petition the court for custody of the child, visitation rights, and parenting time if they wish. If the father is seeking full custody of the child, it can be an uphill battle. Judges are reluctant to take children away from the mother, unless it can be shown to be in the child's best interest.


As an unmarried parent, you have rights. At The Clarke Law Firm, we are prepared to help you fight for your rights and ensure that your relationship with your child is honored. Whether you are an unmarried father or an unmarried mother, we will work tirelessly to see that your needs are met. Learn how we can help with your case today.

Contact our Murfreesboro family law attorneys to request an initial consultation. Call (615) 796-6299.