Each family is unique in its structure and circumstances. While in some instances a child’s biological parents are married, this isn’t the case for all families. In fact, many parents choose not to get married or otherwise conceive a child outside of wedlock. Paternity is legally presumed when parents are married; however, it can’t be if they are not. Therefore, it’s important that parents know their legal rights when it comes to their children, especially when it comes to establishing paternity.
Paternity refers to the legal and biological identity of a father to a child. When a woman gives birth, she is considered the legal mother of that child. For fathers, however, establishing a child’s paternity can be complicated if the parents are not married. Unless paternity is established, a child born to an unwed mother can technically have no “legal” father. Establishing paternity means much more than just having a father named on a child’s birth certificate. In fact, there are benefits for the child, the mother, and the father once paternity is established, including:
Benefits for Children
Formally determining paternity establishes a child or children’s legal relationship with their father. Children will then have easier access to medical insurance, life insurance, and have other benefits like family inheritances, social security, veterans benefits, and other such financial support that provide the child with the financial resources to which they are entitled.
Benefits for the Mother
Establishing paternity also benefits to the mother of the child. Both parents will be legally required to share in the responsibilities of parenthood, including contributing to the costs of raising the child, which may include regular child support payments.
Benefits for the Father
Once paternity is established, fathers gain legal rights to their child, including custody and/or visitation. Establishing paternity also shows that the father cares for the child, wishes to establish a lasting bond with them, and wants to be a part of the child’s life and future.
How to Establish Paternity in Texas
While every child has a biological father, if the father and mother were never married, Texas does not give the father any rights or mandate any legal responsibilities unless legal paternity is established. In Texas, paternity can be established either voluntarily through an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) or involuntarily through court proceedings. An AOP indicates both parents voluntarily agree the designated man involved is indeed the father of the child. This is typically done when a child is born in a hospital or can be signed afterward and mailed to the Vital Statistics Unit in Austin, Texas. The AOP form can be obtained at a hospital, local birth registrar, the Attorney General’s Child Support Office, or the Vital Statistics Unit. Once the AOP is properly filed with the Vital Statistics Unit, the father is then established as the legal father of the child and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate.
On the other hand, the involuntary establishment of paternity is undertaken through court proceedings in which the court issues an order adjudicating parentage. This method is called “involuntary” because paternity is disputed, thus making it an issue for the court system. After filing a Petition to Adjudicate Parentage in the county where the child lives and receiving the notice of the court proceeding, if the father then chooses to not to appear in court, the judge can issue a default order in his absence, declaring him the legal father. If the father appears in court and the mother and father agree he is the biological father, the court will enter an order adjudicating parentage.
In the event the mother or father denies or is uncertain about a child’s paternity, the court may order DNA testing. A DNA test requires that the child, mother, and father all send in samples of their DNA to a lab for analysis. Following testing, the court will determine whether the purported father is in fact the biological father of the child based on the test results and issue an order adjudicating parentage. Within this proceeding, the court can also issue orders concerning custody, visitation, and child support.
Brazoria County Paternity Attorneys
Fathers play an incredibly important role in their children’s lives. Fathers deserve to have access to their children regardless of their relationship with the mother. At Terry & Roberts, our experienced family law attorneys can help fathers establish paternity and formalize their legal rights. We also routinely help mothers adjudicate paternity and obtain the support for their children to which they are legally entitled. If you would like to learn more about how we can help, contact our offices today.