There used to be a time when courts considered that the best interests of the child could only be preserved when the child stayed with the mother. The tenders’ doctrine, as this practice was known, led to many child custody and visitation cases being settled in favor of the mother, without paying adequate attention to a father’s pleas for child custody, even when that father was mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially capable of caring for his child.
However, like other sociological changes in American society, fathers’ rights have also evolved with time and nowadays, courts in Tennessee consider the best interests of the child while deciding on child custody and visitation, unlike the tender years’ doctrine of yester-years. In addition to the societal change, federal and state agencies have made various efforts to ensure that fathers’ rights are protected, especially when that father is unmarried.
Over the past several decades, many unmarried fathers challenged the practice of termination of their parental rights under the Fourteenth Amendment in cases where the unwed mothers put up their children for adoption without the father’s consent. After a number of similar cases in various U.S. courts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an unwed father’s parental rights would be protected by the judicial system once that father had established a healthy relationship with his child.
In Tennessee, a “father” is defined as the biological father of a child born during marriage whereas a “parent” is a biological mother or father regardless of their marital status. Therefore, it sometimes takes some efforts to establish paternity and sometimes, it may become a challenge because many fathers may not have adequate knowledge of all laws governing paternity claims in Tennessee. However, with the right guidance, an unwed father may be able to exercise his rights to establish paternity and play an integral part of his child’s growing years.
Source: ChildWelfare.gov, “The Rights of Unmarried Fathers,” Accessed on Aug. 8, 2014