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Helton Law Firm, PLLC

Child custody when parents are unmarried

If a Tennessee couple is unmarried when they have a child, legally, both biological parents have a right to see the child unless there are extenuating circumstances that make it unsafe for the child. However, an unmarried father must first establish paternity. This may simply involve signing an acknowledgement of paternity when the child is born.

However, in some cases, paternity may be in dispute. DNA testing may be necessary. With paternity legally established, parents may be able to make an agreement about custody and visitation without going to court. They can put together a parenting agreement that addresses a number of more specific elements of raising the child including what religion the child will be brought up in, how the child will be educated and how modifications to the agreement will be handled.

Parents who are able to reach an agreement without going to court should still file the agreement with the court. Once a judge approves it, the parenting plan will be legally binding, and if one parent does not adhere to the custody and visitation agreement, the other parent has legal recourse. If parents are unable to reach an agreement, then a court may decide. Courts generally favor the mother for primary physical custody unless the father can show evidence that the mother is unfit or that the father has been the primary caregiver.

If a father is seeking primary custody, it may be helpful to provide documentation to demonstrate that he is the primary caregiver or that the mother is unfit. For example, he might bring in medical records to show that he is primarily responsible for the child's medical care or police reports to demonstrate that the mother is abusive or has substance abuse issues. In the absence of these issues, a father who does not have primary custody may still get a substantial amount of visitation time.

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