Unmarried Texas parents must establish paternity

When a child is born, there are so many things that must be taken care of. Parents need to set up a nursery, buy new clothes and supplies, locate a day care and maybe even learn to change a diaper. But, if the parents are not married to each other, there is one additional task that cannot afford to be overlooked - the parents need to establish legal paternity so that they and their child will have the protection of Texas family law.

When a child is born to married parents (or to parents who were married in the 300 days before the child was born), Texas law presumes that the mother's husband is the father of the child. However, if the parents are not married, the mother is the only legally recognized parent. In order for the father to have any legal rights or responsibilities, the parents will have to establish paternity.

Establishing paternity gives the father the right to seek custody and parenting time. It also gives the mother the right to seek child support.

How to establish paternity

There are a number of ways to establish legal paternity. The easiest way is for the mother and father to both sign a document called an "Acknowledgement of Paternity." This form is usually made available at the hospital when the child is born. After it is completed, it must be filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit. There is no charge to file this form.

If the child's genetic father is different from its presumed father (for example because the mother was married to someone else or because she got divorced shortly before the child was conceived), then the presumed father will need to complete a Denial of Paternity form. This must be done before the genetic father can complete an Acknowledgement of Paternity.

If the parents cannot agree to complete an Acknowledgement of Paternity, or if the presumed father will not sign a Denial of Paternity, then either parent can go to court to establish legal paternity. Proving paternity without an agreement can be difficult, so it is best to get help from an experienced Texas family law attorney.

After paternity is established

Establishing paternity gives parents options, but it doesn't necessarily compel either parent to act in a certain way. Fathers who want custody or parenting time may still need to go to court if the mother will not grant access. Even if the parents reach an agreement on their own, they may still want to go to court to make the agreement official in case they end up having a disagreement in the future.

Similarly, if she retains custody, the child's mother will need to secure an order establishing the father's child support duties.

As with paternity suits, it is advisable to get assistance from an experienced attorney when dealing with these issues.