Paternity means legal fatherhood. If a married couple has a child, paternity is automatically established at birth. In other cases, parents must fill out and sign specific documents to ensure that the law recognizes the child’s legal father. In Texas, unmarried parents need to establish paternity to ensure the father has legal rights. While fatherhood does not require the law for a man to have a positive and close bond with his child, legal recognition can make a significant difference in terms of support and obligations the father has towards his child.
Depending on your situation, establishing paternity can be a voluntary process where the father completes and signs an Acknowledgement of Paternity. When it is not the case, the law considers it involuntary paternity, and you need to go to court.
Who Can Seek to Establish Paternity in Texas?
If the parents are unmarried, they may choose to complete an Acknowledgement of Paternity as they both agree on who the father is.
In Texas, the following individuals can file a paternity lawsuit:
- The mother
- A man claiming to be the father
- The child
A governmental agency can also request to establish paternity through a court order.
Acknowledgment of Paternity
Both mother and father need to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity for the document to be valid. If only the father does so, a court would deem the form invalid. Unmarried parents can fill out this form at the hospital after their child’s birth.
If the hospital has already submitted the birth certificate, the parents must pay a fee to change the birth certificate and include the father’s name. To ensure the Acknowledgement of Paternity is valid, you should work with an entity that is certified to process this type of legal document.
Parents can get an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at:
- The child’s birth hospital
- The local birth registrar
- The Attorney General's Child Support Office
- The Vital Statistics Unit
If parents contest who is the child’s father, they have the right to pursue a paternity lawsuit, which the law considers establishing “involuntary” paternity. To begin the process, the father, mother, child, or a state agency files a Petition to Adjudicate Parentage. This must take place in the county where the child resides. If both mother and father are involved, they each have the right to have an attorney throughout the process.
If both parents appear before the court and agree the man is the legal father, the court can immediately issue an Order of Adjudicating Parentage. If the father does not appear on the hearing date, the judge can opt for a default order and declare him the legal father.
If the parents cannot agree on who the father is, the court can order DNA testing. Both child and parents must get their cheeks swabbed either at court or a local medical center. DNA tests have a 99% accuracy rate to establish biological fatherhood. These paternity tests usually provide results within four to six weeks, which then allows the judge to issue their ruling.
Once a court has established paternity, they can appoint the father as the child’s joint managing conservator. This involves exercising your father’s rights and fulfilling your parental duties.
Why Is Establishing Paternity Important?
Whether you already had a relationship with your child before establishing paternity or not, you now have rights and duties regarding the child’s well-being and long-term support. Establishing paternity allows you to have your name on the child’s birth certificate.
Even if you are not close with the mother, being the legal father can facilitate life for both of you and your child as you can negotiate financial support and visitation schedule, so you can participate in the child’s life. This can increase stability for all parties involved.
Your child gets to have a relationship with both their parents and learn about both sides of their family, including medical history.
Establishing paternity can also help the child access:
- Medical insurance
- Social security
If the child’s mother does not want you involved in their life, becoming the legal father can make a significant difference. As long as you are a positive presence in your child’s life, established paternity allows you to spend time and be actively involved in the child’s upbringing.
If you need a compassionate family law attorney in Houston, contact Cynthia Tracy, Attorney at Law, P.C., today at (281) 612-5443 to schedule an appointment!