If parents are married, the husband is presumed to be the father of children born during the marriage. However, if parents are not married, then the child has no legal father. This is true even if the parents are living together. Paternity (fatherhood) for non-married parents must be legally established.
In Tennessee, a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity (VAP) is one of the methods a father can use to legally establish his paternity of a child. This is a tool primarily used by fathers who were not married to their child’s mother at the time the child was born. Legislation on VAPs is found at Tennessee Code Annotated section 24-7-113.
Is a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity right for my situation?
A VAP can be an excellent way to establish paternity. They are relatively simple procedures for unmarried fathers to quickly and economically become the legally recognized father of their children. A properly executed VAP is conclusive and does not need to be ratified by the court. This means that once you create a VAP, it immediately goes into effect and a father’s parental rights are established—all without ever having to go to court. In the right situation, this is the fastest and cheapest way for a father to establish paternity.
How do I create a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?
The easiest time to create a VAP is at the hospital when the child is born. The hospital staff should be able to explain the process and provide you with the form. Doing it this way also puts the father’s name on the child’s original birth certificate. If you need to establish paternity for an older child, both parents need to go to their local Health Department, Child Support Office, or the State Office of Vital Records to sign the form. Parents must provide a picture I.D. and Social Security numbers and BOTH parents must sign the form in front of a notary public (parents don’t have to sign at the same time, though).
Signing the VAP is voluntary (hence the “V” in VAP). Neither party should coerce the other into signing the form. The mother must sign the VAP, certifying that she is the mother and that the other person who has signed the VAP is the father.
What if I change my mind…can I revoke a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?
Yes. EITHER parent may rescind (take back) the VAP, however, there are specific requirements and timelines that must be followed. The following are methods to cancel a VAP:
- Within 60 days of a VAP’s completion, complete and submit a sworn statement refuting the named father on a from provided by the state registrar and filing that form with the office of vital records of the department of health; or
- Within 60 days of a VAP’s completion, tell a judge that you wish to rescind the VAP during a court hearing that relates to the child; or
- If 60 days have passed, you can challenge within 5 years on the basis of fraud, whether extrinsic or intrinsic, duress, or material mistake of fact; or
- If more than 5 years have passed, you must demonstrate fraud in the procurement of the acknowledgment by the mother of the child.
Rescinding a VAP can be a tricky task that requires specific attention to detail. If you find yourself in this position, we highly recommend that you talk to an experienced family attorney.
Establishing paternity and becoming the legal parent of a child is a powerful thing. Legal parents have the right to have a relationship and regular visitation with their child. However, with parental rights also come parental responsibilities. Parents must contribute their share of financial, physical, and emotional support.
If you have any questions about this process or any other aspect of family law in Tennessee, please don’t hesitate to call us at 931-398-5200 or contact us on this site. Our lawyers focus on family issues and truly want to help you realize what’s best for your family.