Fathers who are not married to their children’s mother still have custody and visitation rights and the responsibility to provide support. However, you must establish legal paternity and remain in your child’s life to take advantage of your parental rights. 

Learn how to seek custody as a single father in Tennessee. 

Filing a custody petition 

While the state automatically grants custody to a single mother, a single father must petition the court for custody. This requires paternity acknowledgment, either through a signed birth certificate or a DNA test. You must file this petition in the Tennessee county where your child resides. You can ask for joint custody, visitation or sole custody by submitting a parenting plan. However, sole custody requires proof of abuse, neglect or other circumstances that harm the child’s well-being. 

The court will ask the child’s mother to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, which you must also sign. If she refuses, the court may order a DNA test to determine whether you are the biological father. 

Understanding the best interest standard 

Like most states, Tennessee grants custody arrangements in the child’s best interest. Typically, this includes time with both parents. The court considers several factors in determining best interest: 

  • The relationship each parent has with the child 
  • Each parent’s mental and physical health 
  • Each parent’s ability to provide a stable home and otherwise fulfill the child’s needs 
  • Any history of domestic abuse or neglect 
  • The child’s wishes, provided that he or she is older than 12 

When your child is born, you should establish paternity as soon as possible to claim your parental rights. When a parent has not spent time with a child in 18 months or longer, he or she may no longer be eligible for visitation in the eyes of the court. Once a father has established paternity and the court makes a custody determination, either parent can request child support.