By Jedidah McKeehan

As a father of two young children, I still remember my time at the hospital surrounding their births. Lots of excitement and happiness, but there was also quite a bit of forms and paperwork to complete.

One form I remember filling out with my wife was the paternity form which stated who was to be on our children’s birth certificates.

I can see how it would be a tense moment when the presumed father, who is unmarried to the mother, is waiting to see whether the mother puts him on the paternity form. There’s no question she is mom, but in that role, she has a great deal of control in deciding who goes on the paternity form as the father of her child. She can put no one down, or she can put someone down who is not even present at the hospital.

What about the mom? What are some of the questions that may be running through her mind about filling out this form and what are the answers to those questions?

First and foremost, what if mom is not sure who the father is? Easy, do not put anyone down as the father on the paternity form if you are unsure who the father of your child is. Leave that box blank.

What if the mom knows that the man at the hospital with her is not the biological father but he really wants to be seen as the father of the child. Should mom put him down as the father? That is fantastic that he wants to support the child, but he should not be put down as the father. The paternity form is a legal document saying who the biological father of the child is. I cannot recommend lying on this document, regardless of the good intentions of someone else.

If mom signs the paternity form saying someone is the father of the child, can the father take the child away from mom? No, absolutely not. Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-2-303, “absent an order of custody to the contrary, custody of a child born out of wedlock is with the mother.” The father will have to apply to the court to establish custody and visitation rights (although mom can allow the father to see the child as much as she desires if she trusts and gets along with the father).

If mom wants to raise the child on their own without the father being involved at all, why should she put the father down on the form at all? I can understand the desire to do that, but I cannot recommend it. By putting the father on the paternity form, the mom is allowing their child to know their father, and to potentially receive benefits available to them under the father’s name (to name just a couple of benefits to placing the biological father on the paternity form).

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.