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Establishing paternity: Modern versus traditional legal standards

| Nov 2, 2016 | Fathers' Rights

When looking at the history of family law, it is clear that the law interfered with marriage as little as possible. Generally, unmarried fathers had little — if any — parental rights regarding their children. As such, legislatures and courts would de-facto award paternity rights to the husbands of the child’s mother, even if the man was not the biological father. Two men fighting over paternity rights would almost always result in the married man’s victory.

The general rule was to make the husband the legal father if 1) a child were born within 300 days of divorce, or 2) a child were born while the marriage was still in place. In most states, this rule was legally irrefutable, no matter what kinds of facts in his favor the biological father was able to present.

However, following a number of Supreme Court cases during the 1970s and 1980s, state laws that ignored the rights of unwed fathers were eliminated. Now, the trend is to give preference to biology when awarding paternity rights. If a man can prove that he is the father — which is not very difficult to do via a DNA test — the man can in many cases claim parental rights like the ability to have visitation rights.

In 2000, this modern parental rights trend was solidified in the Uniform Parentage Act. The UPA offers the assumption that the married father is the biological parent of any children born during his marriage. However, unlike with the traditional approach, this assumption is rebuttable. Paternity will be awarded to a biological, non-married father, for example, if all the potential parents’ consent. As for contested parental challenges, the UPA accepts only DNA as evidence to prove paternity.

Unmarried fathers in Tennessee seeking to establish their paternity rights can speak with a family law attorney about the legal steps they need to take. In the modern era of DNA testing — when the biological father can be definitively identified — this process is much easier than it was in the past.

Source: FindLaw, “The Relationship of Biology to Legal Fatherhood: Two New Cases Show Courts Struggling to Find a Coherent Approach, As Non-Biological Fathers Fight for Their Rights to Children,” accessed Nov. 02, 2016


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