If you are not married when your child is born, your child does not automatically have a legal father and you—even as the biological father–do not have any rights to your child. If parents are unmarried when their child is born, the mother has custody by default. This is why fathers must establish paternity.
Even if the father is listed on the birth certificate and the child has his last name, that only creates a legal presumption that he is the legal father and does not guarantee him parental rights if the parents split up.
The only way a father can lock in rights to his children is by legally establishing his paternity. Here are the 3 most important reasons a father should establish paternity:
1. Avoid the Child Support Trap- Establish Paternity
Here’s a common situation we see all the time: Mother goes to her local child support office to establish a child support payment. However, the amount of time Father spends with his child is one of the most important factors in determining how much child support is owed and that number has never been established. Because there is no visitation legally in place, the child support office calculates the payment Father owes using a default minimum amount of visitation. What this means is that the system—by default–maximizes the amount of child support Father owes by assigning him the minimum amount of visitation.
Now, here is a very important fact that confuses many fathers: the child support office does not have authority to set visitation, that is the role of the court. Even once a child support payment is established in the manner outlined above, the father isn’t allowed to exercise the visitation they assigned him. The child support office simply uses the minimum amount of visitation as the basis for a calculation, it does not award any time with the child to the father.
Ultimately, what happens is that a father is required to pay the maximum amount of child support for his situation, but is still not allowed to see his child. This situation is easily avoided, however, by the father proactively establishing his paternity and securing more than the minimum visitation before child support is set.
2. Secure Rights to Your Child- Establish Paternity
As discussed above, when parents are not married, the mother has custody of the child by default. A father is at the mercy of the mother if he wants to see his child. It doesn’t have to stay this way, though. A father in Tennessee has more rights now than ever before. Fathers are routinely being awarded parenting time beyond the traditional “every other weekend” standard and it is common for a father who can show he is in a better position to care for the child to be named the primary residential parent.
“A father in Tennessee has more rights now than ever before.”
A father can obtain a court order securing his parental rights. We develop documents known as “parenting plans” that specify exactly what the father’s rights are. A parenting plan goes into detail about important items like custody, child support, decision-making, and holiday visitation. However, none of this can happen until a father establishes his paternity.
3. Know your Child- Establish Paternity
Finally, and perhaps most important, establishing paternity is establishing identity for the child. Fathers helped bring their children into this world and the children deserve to know and have relationships with their fathers. Children benefit by having strong relationships with both parents and fathers fill a special role that no one else ever can in the emotional development of children. Parenthood is one of the most rewarding things life has to offer and no father should miss out on it due to inaction. Every father needs to establish paternity today.
If you’re ready to take the next step and establish paternity, or if you simply want more information, please call us at 931-398-5200 or send an email to [email protected]. Our attorneys are happy to discuss matters with you and make sure you know your rights.