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When a couple with children divorces, they must make decisions about custody rights and parenting time for both parents. There is no question about whether the father has a right to see his children. For unmarried fathers, however, gaining custody of a child is a little more complicated.

FindLaw provides a look at the Tennessee Codes on domestic relations. In Tennessee, a mother automatically has full custody of a child born out of wedlock. It is her sole responsibility to provide for and make decisions on behalf of the child. Without a custody order from the court, the father has no legal right to see, spend time with or make decisions for the child. The father also has no financial obligation.

If an unmarried father wants to have a more active role in his child’s life, he must first establish paternity. However, establishing paternity does not automatically grant the father access to the child. He must then petition the courts to grant him any physical or legal custody, as well as any parenting time.

The courts will sometimes accept paternity on the agreement of the mother and father without genetic testing. Other times, the court will require it. Per Title 36 of the Tennessee Code, certain people and entities can call for a DNA match before accepting the father’s paternity. The mother, the child or child’s guardian, the man claiming to be the father or the department of human services can all request a genetic test. In cases involving underage parents, the legal guardians of the underage person can also call for a test.