How to Legitimize A Child In Tennessee And Why You Should
Several states, including Tennessee, permit the putative (alleged) father not married to the mother to take full legal responsibility for their child. Morally, it's widely considered the right thing to do but even if you have no moral component driving you, there are other logical and compelling reasons why you should consider legitimizing your child. And know that simply signing a birth certificate is not enough to confer legitimization.
Let's clear this up first: while the legitimization process is often represented as making the unmarried father responsible for supporting the child, and technically that's true, paternity can later be established through the courts by the mother and can be proven by a DNA test if necessary whether you cooperate or not, so by failing to legitimize you are not relieving yourself of legal responsibility to pay child support, nor does legitimizing your child affect the amount you'll owe. But unless you do legitimize within thirty days of birth, paying child support is the only "right" you'll have as an unmarried father of a child born in Tennessee. That leaves you in an extremely vulnerable legal position. By completing the legitimization process at birth or within 30 days of the child's birth, you'll automatically gain every right a married father has, as if you were married to the child's mother.
What is your vulnerability should you fail to do so? The mother's movements with the child will be unrestricted. If she decides to move hundreds or even thousands of miles away, taking your child with her, you have no legal right to interfere. Typically a mother will move to a different state then begin a series of court filings that you will either need to travel to in order to attend, or lose. These filings can involve custody, home state residency of the child under the UCCJEA, which is an act adopted by nearly every state (for additional information on the UCCJEA see https://knoji.com/how-to-win-a-parental-abduction-custody-battle-in-tennessee-and-47-other-states-using-the-uccjea-law/) child support amounts, visitation, termination of parental rights and dozens of other possibilities.The cost to you of such filings and hearings is nearly unlimited with perhaps the only real limitation being the creativity of your child's mother and her lawyer.
Some Important Rights You'll Gain Under The UCCJEA If You Legitimize:
- The right to be served a notice of intention by certified mail prior to the mother's intended move beyond 100 miles of your residence
- The right to object to the mother's intended move within 60 days of notice
- The right to force the mother to move back If she moves without notice.
- The right to fight for full custody of the child
- All the rights a father married to the mother at the time of the child's birth enjoys
You'll need to file a Petition for Legitimization in the superior court of the county where the child and mother reside. Legitimization may require retaining a lawyer in that county but some hospitals have people on staff who can guide you though the process just after birth of the child. You might also contact the county court house directly for the necessary paperwork. While legitimization is established through the courts, that basically means a judge must review the paperwork and sign off on it, you may not need to actually appear in court.