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Rights of Single Fathers

Maybe you just weren’t that into each other. Perhaps alcohol was involved that night. Or, maybe you were together for a long time, but gradually drifted apart or fell in love with someone else. For whatever reason, these days, more and more parents are choosing to not get married even if they have a child together. What’s important is that despite some who question the rights of single fathers, they do exist.


It depends. If a couple is married, then the law presumes that both the father and the mother have equal rights to time with the child and equal responsibilities for that child’s care.  But unmarried couples with kids go through a different process to establish custody rights and parental responsibilities.

Under T.C.A. 36-1-102, the biological mother is recognized as a “legal parent” and therefore has all of the rights and responsibilities associated with her child. She has possession of the baby. She says who the father of the child is, and sometimes, she may refuse to say. Some mothers readily acknowledge the father. Some don’t. And sometimes, mothers don’t exactly know.

A father is a “legal parent” of a child if he is or has been married to the biological mother and that child was born during the marriage. That also holds true if the child was born within three hundred days after the marriage was ended. If you already know you are the father even though you and the mother were never married, you can still be adjudicated as the legal father of the child.

Alternatively, a man who is not a “legal parent,” not married to the biological mother, and not on the birth certificate, but who claims that he is the biological father, could be a “putative father.” That’s so long as he has either registered on the putative father registry or is openly living with the child and agrees and acts as father of the child.


If a single father wants to assert his right to child custody, he (and mom) must sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. Alternatively, dad can file a Petition to Establish Parentage. A mother can also file this action if she wants to receive child support.

If either of you does that, a DNA test will be required by the Court or at the request of either of the parties. Usually, the person who objects to someone being named the father pays the initial cost of the test. So if mom objects to a particular man being named father, she says. If the alleged father objects, then he pays.

Your lawyer or the court will tell you where to go get a lab test. Then the case will be reset to review the results. Once paternity is established, the Court will enter a parenting plan to schedule visitation between the father and the child.

Single fathers have rights just like moms do. Contrary to popular belief, the court does not automatically favor one parent over the other. But at Held Law Firm, we do understand that life gets complicated. Multiple court dates and paternity testing are pressures that few people want to deal with on top of everything else. Put your trust in the hands of an attorney with the experience necessary to keep the process as simple as possible, while ensuring the best possible results. Call us today at (865) 685-4780.

The information in this blog is accurate as of the time of publication, but laws often change. That’s why it’s important to hire an attorney who keeps up with these changes. Contact us today.