Whenever a child is born, paternity must be established. Establishing paternity, or fatherhood, is important because it grants the father certain legal rights and obligations in regards to the child. This includes visitation rights, custody rights, child support obligations, and more.
In Texas (as in most states), when two biological parents are married, paternity is assumed. This means that the husband is automatically assumed to be the legal father of the child. But what happens if a child is born to unmarried parents?
Believe it or not, a child has no legal father until paternity is established. As such, even if you are certain you are the biological father of the child, you have no legal rights (or obligations) until/unless paternity is officially established and you are listed as the child’s father on his or her birth certificate.
How Is Paternity Established in Texas?
There are two methods of establishing legal paternity in the state of Texas: voluntarily and involuntarily.
When both parents agree that the man is the child’s father, they typically establish paternity voluntarily. With voluntary paternity, the parents must sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. Most often, this is done at the hospital (or another location) when the child is born. However, the form can be signed later and sent via mail to the Vital Statistics Unit in Austin, Texas.
When the parents do not agree on paternity—in other words, when the child’s fatherhood is disputed by either the mother or the alleged father (or another party, such as the child)—paternity can be established involuntarily. This is typically done through a court order.
The party wishing to establish paternity first files a Petition to Adjudicate Parentage. This must be done in the same county where the child lives, regardless of where the mother or alleged father lives. Following this, the court will issue an Order Adjudicating Parentage, requiring the alleged father to appear in court. If he does not appear, the court can submit a default order. This order formally declares him the father of the child, even if he is not present.
Often, with involuntary paternity, the court will order DNA testing to establish the biological father of the child. This typically involves a simple mouth swab of the mother, child, and alleged father. If the results of the DNA test show that the man is, in fact, the biological father of the child, the court will establish him as the legal father of the child as well. This grants the father specific legal rights and obligations, from visitation rights to child custody rights to child support obligations. Often, the court will rule on these and other related issues during the paternity proceedings.
What Are a Father’s Rights?
Once legal paternity has been established, the father has legal rights regarding his child. This is true whether the parents are married, in a relationship, divorced, separated, or have no contact whatsoever. However, things like visitation and child custody rights are subject to court orders; just because you have been named the legal father of your child, this does not automatically grant you the right to see your child or have custody of him/her.
That being said, outside of extenuating circumstances, your rights as a father typically include the right to:
- See your child
- Spend time with your child
- Develop a relationship with your child
- Make certain decisions regarding your child’s health, education, and upbringing
- Participate in your child’s life
When the mother of your child argues that she should retain full physical or legal custody or disputes your right to visitation, you may face challenges in asserting these rights. Additionally, as the father, you are obligated to help with the financial costs associated with raising your child, meaning you will likely be ordered to make child support payments. Remember, the court always rules in what it views as the best interests of the child. Neither parent is automatically granted favor.
It is very important that you have an attorney on your side when navigating any issues related to paternity, visitation, child custody, child support, or fathers’ rights. A family law attorney will be able to help you understand your various options and ensure your rights are protected.
The Importance of Establishing Paternity
Whether you find yourself an unwed father intentionally or unintentionally, it is incredibly important to undergo the process of establishing paternity. Even if you and the mother are currently raising your child together, you do not have any legal rights to your child unless you have formally established that you are his or her father. Establishing paternity not only protects your rights, but it also ensures that your child will have the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with you and have you in his or her life—no matter what happens in the future.
If you need help with a paternity or fathers’ rights issue, please do not hesitate to contact our Dallas family law attorneys. At Garza Law Firm, we have been representing families throughout the area for more than a decade. We provide personalized and attentive support as we help our clients navigate some of life’s toughest challenges. Our goal is to ease some of the stress you are facing and protect your rights and best interests throughout the process.