Unmarried Parents Face Unique Obstacles in Tennessee

About 25 percent of babies are now born to unmarried couples, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is nearly double the rate seen in 2002, Time reported recently.

Compared to married couples, unmarried parents often face a unique set of legal obstacles when they decide to part ways, owing to the fact that their relationships with one another and their children are not always clearly defined in the eyes of the law.

Establishing paternity

One of the most significant issues facing unmarried parents in Tennessee is paternity, or legal fatherhood. When a child born to a married mother, Tennessee law automatically presumes that the husband is the child’s father. However, when the mother is unmarried, the child will not have a legal father until steps are taken to establish paternity.

Establishing paternity helps to ensure that children of unmarried parents receive the same advantages as those of married couples, including inheritance rights and social security, as well as health insurance and other benefits that may be provided through the father or his employer. Another important issue is child support; under Tennessee law, paternity must be established before the father can be required to pay child support.

Child custody

Tennessee child custody laws differ depending on whether a child’s parents are married or unmarried. Married parents automatically share equal rights and access to the children in most cases. In contrast, when a child is born to unmarried parents, Tennessee law automatically grants legal and physical custody of the child to the mother unless paternity has been established by a court order and unless the court order changes custody.

This means that, unless paternity and an order regarding custody is established, an unmarried mother will have an exclusive right not only to live with and care for the child on a day-to-day basis, but also to make important decisions about the child’s care and upbringing, such as where he or she will go to school and what kinds of medical care he or she will receive.

By establishing paternity, an unmarried father can protect his right to have a relationship with his child and seek custody or visitation rights if the parents break up. It will also protect his right to seek custody of the child in the event that the mother dies or is otherwise unable to care for the child.

Contact a lawyer for more information

Unmarried parents in Tennessee who have questions about their parental rights and obligations are encouraged to speak with an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer with a background in family law can answer any questions that unmarried parents may have and help them take the steps necessary to protect their own and their children’s best interests.

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