By Jedidiah McKeehan

Unfortunately, this issue comes up a lot in this day and age, and it’s surprising how few people know the answer.

So, a couple that is not married has a child. Then something happens and the mother is no longer allowing the father to see the child and he is all upset and worked up about this. Does he not have any rights that guarantee him visitation with his child?

In short, no he does not.

Tennessee Code Annotated Section 36-2-303 states, “Absent an order of custody to the contrary, custody of a child born out of wedlock is with the mother.”

That’s the entire statute. It doesn’t leave much room for negotiation or question, does it?

But what if father’s name is on the birth certificate? It doesn’t matter.

But what if father and mother have lived together for multiple years with the child? It doesn’t matter.

So, what does the father have to do in order to see his child? The father needs to go to juvenile court and file a petition for custody (I would recommend doing this with the help of an attorney). Then the court will go about having a hearing or setting a mediation when the father can attempt to get some established custody/visitation rights.

A court order or mediated agreement is the only way that the father can get his visitation and custody rights protected. Otherwise, the father is completely at the mercy of the mother to allow him visitation with their child. Not a great position to be in.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.