How to Establish Paternity

In the eyes of the law, it can be difficult to define the relationship between an unmarried father and his child. Compared to custody laws between married couples, unmarried parents face different, unique legal obstacles when parting ways.

Under Tennessee law, when a child is born to a married mother, the husband is automatically presumed to be the father of the child. But what if you are not married to the child’s mother? The child will not have a legal father until certain steps are taken to establish paternity.

As an unmarried father, it is important in ensuring your rights as a parent, that you establish paternity. This will help protect your right to have and maintain a relationship with your child. It can also prevent the mother of your child from moving out of state or preserve your right to request consideration for custody if a report of child abuse or neglect has been filed. In Tennessee, there are two ways paternity can be established: voluntarily or involuntarily. This can happen as soon as the child is born, and up until the child is 21 years of age.


When establishing paternity voluntarily, both you and the mother agree that you are the legal father of the child. This usually happens at the hospital when your child is born. Both you and the mother will sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” which the hospital should provide. This form can also be found and signed at your local child support office, health department, or the Office of Vital records. The form must be signed, notarized, and send to the Office of Vital Records.


Tennessee courts will not get involved in establishing paternity unless paternity is disputed. Involuntary establishment of paternity is done through a court proceeding in which the court will issue an “Order of Parentage.” Through your attorney, you will file a “Petition to Establish Parentage” to get the process started. This usually involves a DNA test, usually a cheek swab, for all three people involved: the mother, the child, and you. After successfully establishing that you are the biological father of your child, and assuming there is no other reason why the court would not grant you paternity, the court will issue an order of parentage making you the child’s legal father. Following this, the court can issue orders of visitation, parenting plans, and child support.

Let us help you preserve your rights to your child and contact the Law Office of Amanda J. Gentry. Amanda serves the greater Nashville, TN area, including Hendersonville, Gallatin, Davidson, Rutherford, Cannon, Sumner, Williamson, Dickson, and Robertson Counties. For a free consultation, call (615) 604-6263, or fill out our contact form.