Establishing paternity refers to the determination of a child’s legal father and the related rights and obligations of the father to the child. Every child has a biological father, but not every child has a legal father. When paternity has been established it means that someone has been named the legal father of a child.
Paternity is automatically established in Tennessee if the parents are married to each other when the child is born. The mother’s husband is considered the legal father, and his name will be placed on the child’s birth certificate. In Tennessee, if the parents of a child are not married to each other when the child is born, then paternity must be established before the father’s name will be added to the child’s birth certificate and before the father has any rights to the child. However, even if your name is on a child’s birth certificate, it is not safe to assume that paternity has legally been established.
How do you establish paternity in Tennessee?
In Tennessee, paternity can be established either voluntarily or involuntarily until the child turns 21 years old. When the mother and father agree that the father is in fact the biological father, paternity can be established voluntarily. To voluntarily establish paternity, both the father and mother must sign what’s called a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (“VAP”).
This is often done at the hospital when the child is born. The form can also be obtained and signed later at the child support office, local health department, or the Office of Vital Records. The mother and father must both sign the same form in front of a notary. Once signed and notarized, the Acknowledgment of Paternity must be filed with, or sent to, the Office of Vital Records. Once properly filed, the father is the legal father of the child and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. In Tennessee, the execution of a VAP is stronger evidence of paternity than DNA testing.
If you are considering executing a VAP, it is worth discussing the execution with an attorney or having DNA testing completed before signing. Once a VAP has been signed, you can only rescind the VAP through certain circumstances. Further, Tennessee laws requires that any legal proceeding to rescind a VAP be brought within 5 years of the date of execution, unless there was fraud in the procurement of the acknowledgment by the mother of the child and where the requested relief will not affect the interests of the child, the state, or any Title IV-D agency.
If a timely petition to rescind is filed, the VAP will only be set aside if the court finds based upon the evidence presented at the hearing that there is a substantial likelihood that fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact existed in the execution of the acknowledgment of paternity. If the court finds this, then it will order DNA testing.
Involuntary establishment of paternity is done through a court proceeding where the court issues an order of parentage. This method is called involuntary because someone disputes paternity, which is why it becomes a court issue.
You begin the court process by filing a Petition to Establish Parentage at a court located in the county where either the mother, father or child lives. A number of people may file the petition: the mother, the father, the child (through a guardian), or the Tennessee Department of Human Services if the child is receiving public assistance.
If either the mother or the father denies or is uncertain of paternity, the court may order DNA testing. Today, a DNA test requires that the child, mother, and father have the inside of their cheeks swabbed. The DNA is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. If, after DNA testing, the court determines that the father is, in fact, the biological father, the court will issue an order of parentage, making the father the legal father and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. Within the proceeding to determine paternity, the court can also issue orders of custody, visitation, and child support.
Why should either parent establish paternity?
Establishing paternity means more than just having a father named on the child’s birth certificate. There are benefits for the child, the mother, and the father when paternity is established. Further, if a child is born out of marriage in Tennessee, the mother has full custody of such child absent a custody order. Thus, even if your name is listed on the birth certificate, you will need to file a petition to establish custody or parentage if you want to have custody and visitation rights, including input on major decisions affecting your child.