Is It Legal for a Tennessee Mother to Keep Her Child From Their Father?
Whether they were ever married or not, when two individuals with a child together no longer have a relationship, the legal issues can become complex, and emotions may run high. When parents enter into a custody agreement, they are legally bound to the terms of that agreement. If a mother later feels that the arrangement is not meeting her child’s needs and it is no longer appropriate for them to spend time with their father, she cannot arbitrarily choose to keep the child from their father. Doing so would open her up to legal consequences. Instead, an experienced child custody lawyer can explain legal options for resolving this difficult situation within the court system.
What Are Parental Rights?
In family law, parental rights are the rights of a parent to make decisions for their child, take actions on their behalf, and have physical custody of them. Parental rights allow an individual to provide the necessary care a child needs. One parent may be granted more parental rights by the court than the other. For example, the mother may have full physical and joint legal custody, while the father only has joint legal custody with visitation rights.
How is Paternity Related to Parental Rights?
In Tennessee, an unmarried mother has full legal and physical custody of her child from the time they are born. This holds true even if a father has signed the birth certificate. A mother can keep her child from seeing an individual who claims to be their father until paternity is established and the father has petitioned the court for his parental rights.
A father can file a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form to establish paternity. If the mother claims he is not the father, a DNA test may be required to confirm paternity. Once paternity is proven, the father can petition the court to grant him paternal rights, such as visitation, decision-making abilities, and custody. At this time, a child support agreement will also likely be created.
Can a Father’s Parental Rights Be Involuntarily Terminated?
When determining who has parental rights, the court considers what situation is in the best interests of the child. In most cases, the goal is to ensure that the child has a positive relationship with both parents and they each have meaningful involvement in the child’s life. Unfortunately, there are some cases where a father may be unfit to raise a child.
In these circumstances, the mother cannot simply keep their child from seeing their father. Failing to follow the court-ordered custody agreement can lead to serious legal issues. Instead, she must seek a legal resolution to the situation. One option involves petitioning the court to terminate the father’s legal rights.
This is a drastic option and should only be considered if the mother believes that a relationship with the father could harm the child. Involuntary termination of parental rights should not be pursued just because the parents have a contentious relationship or cannot agree on certain issues. If a mother attempts to terminate the father’s parental rights for an invalid reason, there may be legal consequences. If you have questions about whether this is a viable option for your situation, a family law attorney can evaluate your case.
What Are the Acceptable Grounds for Terminating a Father’s Legal Rights in Tennessee?
For the court to approve a mother’s petition to involuntarily terminate a father’s rights, she must be able to provide compelling evidence of at least one grounds for termination and demonstrate that the termination of the father’s parental rights is in the best interests of the child. Tennessee law outlines fifteen valid grounds for the termination of parental rights. Some of the most commonly cited examples include:
- Severe child abuse by the parent of any child
- Child sexual abuse by the parent
- Willful abandonment by a parent who has not visited or supported their child for at least four months
- A conviction for sex trafficking
- Imprisonment for conduct against their child, the child’s sibling, or another child in their home
- A conviction for the rape of the other parent, where the rape resulted in the conception of the child in question
- Habitual drug or alcohol abuse
- A removal of the child from the parent’s home by the Department of Children’s Services for at least six months due to allegations of parental neglect and a failure by the parent to remedy the conditions that led to the removal
- A conviction of attempted first or second degree murder of the other parent
- Mental incompetency that prevents the parent from adequately caring for and supporting the child
Will a Mother Continue to Receive Child Support if the Father’s Parental Rights Are Terminated?
If the court terminates the father’s parental rights, he is no longer liable for future child support. However, if the father is in arrears (i.e., he owes back child support), he is still responsible for that amount. There is no statute of limitations on a father’s child support obligations. The only way that a termination of parental rights would lead to the elimination of back child support is if the parents reached an agreement to waive the payments owed and the court approved the arrangement.
What if the Circumstances Do Not Meet the Standards for an Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights?
Many situations where a mother has qualms about her child spending time with their father are not severe enough to warrant a petition to terminate parental rights. However, that does not mean that the mother has no legal options. She may be able to seek a modification of the custody and visitation agreement if she can show that the current arrangement is not in the child’s best interests. A Tennessee modification lawyer from the Law Office of Hibbeler & Associates can help with this process. Contact our law office today at 931-236-2711 to schedule a free consultation with a knowledgeable family law attorney.