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Tennessee's definition of 'father' concerning paternity

Historically, unwed fathers have been granted fewer paternal rights than unwed mothers and married parents in issues of child custody, paternity and fathers' rights. In recent years, fathers seeking parental rights have made great strides in securing legislation that supports their right to fatherhood. The Supreme Court has even gone as far as affirming constitutional protection for the relationship between child and biological father. While this is all in favor of fathers' rights, it is important to look to Tennessee state legislation on issues of family law.

This is where the question of the legal definition of "father" comes into play. In approximately one-half of the states in the union, including Tennessee, an unwed man can be presumed to be the father of a child if any the following scenarios are true: with a father's consent he is listed as the father on the child's birth certificate, he has acknowledged his paternity in writing or he is obligated to support the child, either by voluntary agreement or court order. If a father is seeking rights, he may have to prove one or more of these criteria.

For men who are not in agreement about paternity issues with the mother, they will want to have the right of notice concerning these issues. Acknowledgment of paternity ensures certain rights for an unmarried father, such as the right to receive notice of court proceedings regarding the child, petitions for adoption and actions to terminate parental rights if one so desires. In Tennessee the sole means of achieving right of notice is to establish that you are a father who is not legally declared, but is actively seeking the legality of "father." This can only be done through filing with the putative fathers registry of Tennessee.

Unwed fathers certainly have their work cut out for them when seeking fathers' rights. In comparison, mothers rarely face this seemingly arduous process. Fathers seeking rights need to remember what lies at the end of this journey. Most fathers seeking rights are actually seeking a better relationship with their child. It is almost always in the best interests of children to have a stable father in their lives, and the court's wish is to seek solutions that are most beneficial to the child.

Source: childwelfare.gov, "The Rights of Unmarried Fathers," Accessed Nov. 30, 2015

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