When a couple divorces, both mother and father have rights to their children. They may need a judge to help them work out the details, but their rights are clearly established due to the marriage. What happens when a child is born to unmarried parents, though? Are parental rights as clear when the parents are not married? What can an unmarried father in Texas do to make sure his parental rights are established and protected?
When examining the rights of an unmarried father in Texas, it is important to understand what an unmarried father is. An unmarried father is a father who is not married to the mother of the child in question. He may be in a relationship with the mother. They also may have broken up or may have had other circumstances that led to the conception of their child.
If he is married to someone other than the mother of the child in question, he is still considered an unmarried father for the purposes of this situation. He may also be divorced. He may have children from other relationships. The determination of being unmarried is solely based on not being married to the mother of this child.
The short answer to this question is no. In Texas, the mother is automatically given full legal and physical custody of her child. Even if the father’s name is on the birth certificate, this does not establish any rights for the unmarried father.
Until he is legally recognized as the father, an unmarried father does not have to pay child support. Once he is legally recognized as the father, he has the same rights as a married father, including visitations, decision-making, and child support.
There are two ways that paternity is typically established in Texas. The first is an acknowledgement of paternity. This is a document that acknowledges the unmarried father is the father. It is signed by both parents, and names the presumed father or states there is not a presumed father. If there is a presumed father, both the presumed father and the mother must sign a denial of paternity. The most common reasons there would be a presumed father are because the mother is married to or divorced another man within 300 days of the child’s birth.
If either unmarried parent refuses to sign the acknowledgement of paternity, the other way to establish paternity is to file a paternity suit. This is a suit that goes through the court system. A judge may order a genetic paternity test if the parents are unable to agree that the unmarried father is the father.
If there is no presumed father, there is no time limit on when an unmarried father can establish paternity. He can even do so after the child becomes an adult. However, if there is a presumed father, then the unmarried father must challenge paternity within four years of the child’s birth.
There are two exceptions to the statute of limitations when there is a presumed father. The first exception is if the presumed father was led to believe that the child was his. The second is when the mother did not engage in sexual activity or live with the presumed father at the time of the child’s conception.
Once an unmarried father has established paternity, he gains the same rights as a married father would have in a divorce. He can seek conservatorship of his child. Conservatorship is custody over the child.
The unmarried father may seek joint managing conservatorship, which means that both he and the mother share legal authority over decisions. He may also seek sole managing conservatorship, which means that one parent has exclusive custody, including complete legal authority. When sole managing conservatorship is awarded to one parent, the other parent then has possessory conservatorship, which means visitation rights only. In some cases, these visits may be supervised if a judge deems that necessary to protect the child.
As an unmarried father, establishing paternity is the first step to building a relationship with your child. Without paternity, your child’s mother has complete discretion over when, or even if, you see your child. She can even move out of state without telling you. If you are ready to establish paternity so you can have a relationship with your child and a say in their life, contact a skilled and knowledgeable Texas paternity attorney who can help answer any questions and address concerns.
Attorney Shannon Boudreaux at Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, LLC in Houston, TX offers the extensive experience and supportive guidance clients need to get through their divorce or other family matter as favorably as possible.
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