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How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity?

On Behalf of | Mar 3, 2023 | Family Law

Children benefit significantly from having a relationship with both parents, regardless of the parent’s relationship with each other. While a mother’s rights in Tennessee are automatic, a father must establish paternity to have any legal rights to the child.

Perhaps you didn’t establish paternity immediately after birth, or you only realized you are the child’s father years after the child was born. You may wonder, How long does a father have to establish paternity in Tennessee? Below, the experienced family law attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC describe the process and deadline for establishing paternity in Tennessee.

Legal Paternity Defined

If you are involved in a paternity case, it is essential to understand the legal definition of paternity and why it is important. Paternity is legal fatherhood. Unless a man establishes paternity, he has no legal rights or obligations to the child, even if he believes he is the biological father.

A legal relationship between a father and child is important to a child’s development. This legal relationship gives a father the right to spend time with the child and to help make decisions about the child’s life. It also comes with responsibilities, such as the obligation to help support the child.

Establishing Paternity in Tennessee

In Tennessee, biological fathers don’t necessarily have automatic paternity rights to their children. Instead, biological fathers must take steps to establish paternity. The methods differ depending on whether the father and mother were ever married.

Presumption of Paternity

Under certain circumstances, Tennessee law presumes that a man is the legal father of a child. This means that the law automatically assigns legal rights and responsibilities to the man as the child’s legal father. You can challenge presumed paternity in court. However, you should discuss this with a family lawyer  because it can be complicated.


Tennessee law presumes that if a child is born during a marriage, the husband is the child’s legal father. Plus, if the child is born within 300 days of the end of the marriage or the father’s death, the child is presumptively the husband’s child.

A man is also the presumptive father of the child if he and the child’s mother marry or attempt to marry after the child is born and:

  • He signs and files an acknowledgment of paternity;
  • He consents to be named on the child’s birth certificate; or
  • He is required to pay child support.

Thus, if the parents marry after the child is born, and the father takes one of the above steps, he is the legal father of the child.

Holding Oneself Out As the Father

Another way that Tennessee law presumes that a man is the legal father of a child is if the man tells people he’s the child’s father and brings the child into his home. If both of these factors are met, the man has automatic legal obligations to the child.

Genetic Testing

Tennessee also presumes that a man is a child’s father with genetic testing. Essentially, if a genetic test shows a probability of 95% or more that the man is the child’s father, then he is the presumed legal father of the child.

Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity

Another way to establish paternity is through a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. Hospital staff provide this form to the parents when the child is born if the father wants to be named on the child’s birth certificate. Otherwise, you can visit the Tennessee Office of Vital Records, the Tennessee Department of Human Services, or a local health department office to sign, notarize, and file this form.

Court Establishment of Paternity

Lastly, if none of the above apply, or someone disputes a paternity presumption or an acknowledgment of paternity, you can establish paternity through a court order. When you bring a paternity case, a court will decide on paternity based on evidence. The court may order genetic testing and will take testimony from all parties. Often, paternity cases are attached to child support, custody, or visitation proceedings.

Who Can File a Paternity Case?

The law limits who can bring a paternity case. The people who can file a paternity case are:

  • The child,
  • The child’s mother,
  • The man claiming to be the father, or
  • Tennessee’s Department of Human Services.

Consult with a lawyer to determine if you can file a paternity case.

How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity?

A person who wishes to establish a child’s paternity cannot wait indefinitely to file a paternity case or an acknowledgment of paternity. In Tennessee, a person must file a court case to determine a child’s paternity or acknowledge paternity before the child turns 21. This means that you have the child’s entire childhood and adolescence to establish that you are their father. But the sooner you do this, the more time you have to parent the child and establish a familial relationship with them before they enter adulthood. Do not wait until the last minute to start your case. You should contact a Tennessee paternity attorney right away.

Contact Our Family Law Practice for Paternity Help

Establishing paternity in Tennessee can be difficult, especially if one party disputes paternity. Thankfully, our attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC can help you. Our trusted, client-centered family law practice has experience litigating paternity, custody, and child support proceedings in Tennessee and Kentucky. Contact us today.