By Jedidiah McKeehan

When we think of a “family unit,” in our heads, many of us will think of a married husband and wife and their children born to them while the couple is married.  However, as we all know, families take on many forms.  The family unit can take on many variations and sometimes, it’s unclear who the father is of children.

When that is the case, a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity comes in to play.  The word, “paternity,” means fatherhood.  When someone signs a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, that means they are acknowledging that they are the biological father of a child.

Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-2-304 lays out when a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity comes in to play.

If a mother and father of a child have never been married, then both parents can sign the acknowledgment and that allows the father’s name to be added to the birth certificate.  To do this, the father must sign this acknowledgment at the hospital before the mother leaves with her child.

Even when a father’s name is on a birth certificate, that establishes no custodial rights to the child.  If the father wishes to have any custody rights to the child, he must file for custody in juvenile court.

Another thing to point out, the mother has to sign the acknowledgment as well agreeing that the person signing as father, is the father of the child.  If the mother is unsure about who the father of the child is, then it is better to not allow anyone to sign the birth certificate as the child’s father, and instead, request DNA testing through the Health Department.

If a mother is divorced, the divorce must have been finalized for 300 days before she and the biological father can sign the acknowledgment.  If that time period has not elapsed, the prior husband is considered father until DNA testing is performed and the biological father can be established.

That also applies if the mother is married, separated from her husband, and has a child with someone else.  It is impossible to put the biological father on the acknowledgment even if everyone is sure that he is the biological father.

What are we trying to establish with this form?  The purpose is to determine what father is legally responsible for supporting and raising the child who is born.  If someone is not the biological father of a child, they certainly may support and raise a child, but they are not legally obligated to do so.


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.