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How to establish paternity in Tennessee

January 8, 2018
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establish paternity in Tennessee

In this post, we will discuss the importance of establishing paternity as well as how to establish paternity in Tennessee.

What is paternity?

Paternity, also known as fatherhood, is defined as “the state of being someone’s father.” In the legal field, establishing paternity refers to determining the legal father of a child. Establishing paternity is significant as it determines the rights (visitation, custody, etc.) of the father as well as the obligations (child support, etc.) that the father has to the child.

If a couple is married upon the birth of the child, paternity is automatically given to the husband of the mother. This means the husband is the legal father and also that his name will be the one used on the birth certificate.

However, in Tennessee, if the child’s parents are not married at the time of the birth, paternity must be established to determine the name of the legal father on the birth certificate as well as the rights that the father has relating to the child.

Why is it important to establish paternity in Tennessee?

There are many reasons you may want to establish paternity. However, according to Tennessee’s Department of Human Services, the most important reasons to determine a legal father include:


As a child grows and develops emotionally, it is important for them to know who their father and mother are, as this can give them a sense of identity as well as belonging. Establishing paternity is also significant for the identity of the parents, as it gives them a sense of accomplishment as well as responsibility for their role in their child’s life.


There are several reasons that establishing paternity is important for the medical aspect of raising a child. First of all, knowing who the father of the child is can be useful in determining if a child is predisposed to certain diseases and disorders. Secondly, determining paternity can influence if a child is eligible to participate in the father or mother’s health insurance plan.


Determining paternity is also key in determining whether or not a child is eligible to receive child support and other benefits from their father. Although child support is typically the chief concern of parents, establishing paternity can also affect a child’s eligibility to receive the father’s social security benefits, veterans benefits, health and/or life insurance, as well as inheritance rights.

How do you establish paternity in Tennessee?

In Tennessee paternity is either “voluntary” or “involuntary,” and can be established until the child turns 21.


To establish paternity in Tennessee voluntarily, both the father and mother must be in agreement that the father is the biological parent of the child. If this is the case, establishing paternity is as simple as both parties signing a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity,” which can be completed in the hospital at the child’s birth or at a later date at the local health department, child support office, or Office of Vital Records. This form must be signed by both parties in front of a notary and is then submitted to the Office of Vital Records. After the form is completed and filed, the legal fatherhood is established.


If both parties are not in agreement on the biological father of the child, the process becomes “involuntary.” If this is the case, paternity must be established within the court system. The process is initiated when either the father, mother, child (with a guardian) or Tennessee Department of Human Services files a “Petition to Establish Parentage.”

In this process, a DNA test may be ordered by the court if either party is unsure of or denies paternity. This involves a simple cheek swab of the father, mother, and child, that is then analyzed by a laboratory. When the court receives the definitive results it can then make a clear determination of the legal father and issue an order of parentage. Once the legal father is determined, their name is added to the birth certificate of the child. During paternity proceedings, the court may also decide to rule on issues of child support, visitation rights, and child custody.

As you can see the process of establishing paternity in Tennessee can be complicated. The team at Ken Phillips law is experienced with assisting parents in establishing paternity, whether it is to secure visitation rights or to establish a legal obligation for child support. Contact us today to see how we can assist you through this important, and often stressful process.

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