In Tennessee, one out every three children are born to unwed parents. That is a staggering number. Many of these children will go through life without knowing their father. Many of the fathers will never get to know their sons and daughters. Statistics show that children whose parents both play a role in their lives are only 20% likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system, while those children who do not have both parents in their lives have an 80% chance of contact with the juvenile justice system. In addition, girls who are raised in homes with absent fathers are more likely to become pregnant during their teenage years.
In Tennessee, there are several ways to establish paternity of a child. First, the mother and father can both sign a form called a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. Second, a paternity action can be filed in court. Unlike the paternity action, the voluntary acknowledgment of paternity involves no court action and is usually accomplished in the hospital just after the birth of the child. There is no fee for submitting the voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, provided the form is filled out, signed and filed with the proper state agency prior to the child’s first birthday. The form can be submitted after the child’s first birthday through the date the child turns nineteen, but there is a small fee involved.
The form requires the acknowledgment of both the mother and the father that the father is the natural father of the child. Certain information such as the social security numbers, ages and addresses of both parents must be provided on the form, and the form must be signed before a notary public. The form allows the child to carry the last name of the father if both parents can agree. Otherwise, the child will carry the last name of the mother.
If one or both of the parents are under eighteen years of age, the form must also be signed by the parent or legal guardian of the new parent. If the mother is married to someone else at the time of conception, while she is pregnant, or at the time she gives birth, the form cannot be used and the mother’s husband is presumed to be the father. In that case, the husband will be listed as the father on the child’s birth certificate.
Both parents must be careful when signing the voluntary acknowledgment. If there is any doubt as to the paternity of the child, do not sign the form. Once the form is signed, it becomes conclusive as to the issue of paternity unless it is rescinded within sixty days. After sixty days, it can only be set aside under certain very limited circumstances.
It is my preference to have a DNA test performed prior to the signing of the voluntary acknowledgment form. A private DNA test can be performed relatively quickly. Doing so will resolve the issue of paternity and can avoid problems in the future.