Following a divorce, both parents have rights to their children, depending on visitation schedules and other court-ordered issues. But when a couple is unmarried and terminates their relationship, the child’s father must establish himself as the child’s father. Otherwise, he has no parental rights, and no rights to the child, and the mother is the sole parent with no input from him.
When a child is born to an unmarried couple, the father has no legal rights unless he establishes them, even if the mother names him as the father. With more than 40% of Texas children born to unmarried parents, they do not have a “father” until the man’s parental rights are established.
It’s also not uncommon to discover later that a named father isn’t actually the biological father, but someone else. Occasionally, the mother is already married to someone else, and it’s later discovered that the child is not related to the husband.
In order for a man not married to a child’s mother to become a child’s legal father and obtain those rights, he must establish paternity first. There are three ways to do this depending on the circumstances.
A man who has lived with a child’s mother for the first two years of the child’s life and represented the child as his own is considered the “presumed father,” according to Texas Family Code Section 160.
However, if the couple has never lived together, the man can begin an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) process, which can be done before or after the child’s birth, especially if there is no question of paternity. A man can also file a Petition To Adjudicate Parentage.
Once completed, the father is legally established, and his name can be added to the birth certificate and child support can be ordered.
If the Acknowledgement of Paternity is not possible, and the mother has filed for child support, a court order may be issued by a judge.
In all cases, the man may be required to take a DNA test to complete the establishment of his paternity as ordered by a judge.
Rights Of The Legal Father
Texas conservatorship (custody) cases operate with one goal: the best interests of the child.
After paternity has been established, the man now has the same rights as he would if he were married or formerly married to the child’s mother, including:
- Visitation rights (generally a visitation schedule as if the parents were married)
- Ensures equal rights in decisions such as healthcare, education, religions matters, and general upbringing
- Allows the child to travel with both parents
- The right to petition for sole conservatorship (custody) if the mother is found to be unfit
- The right to prevent the child’s mother from taking the child out of state without his consent
- Allows the parents to change the child’s last name if desired
Establishing paternity benefits the child in a number of ways. It helps the child form emotional bonds with both parents and allows the child to have access to medical records and health insurance, and learn about his or her family history. Additionally, it allows the child to inherit from both parents, and be eligible for things like Social Security, Veterans benefits, and inheritances.
Need Help Establishing Your Paternity Rights?
Wendy L. Hart is an experienced Forth Worth family law attorney with experience in child custody rights and arrangements for both married and unmarried parents. We provide full representation both for men and women and will work to ensure you are treated fairly, as well as protect your interest and that of your children.