For an unmarried father, the birth of your child can be a stressful time. For one, you may not have had access to your child's mother in recent months that you otherwise would have been married. Some women tend to retreat to the safety of close friends and family when they are pregnant. This is not to say that you are a physical threat to your child's mother, but she may prefer to keep her distance while she, frankly, figures out whether you are going to be a part of the child’s life or not.
This is the backdrop to an extremely important time in your life. Now is the opportunity for you to be able to assert your rights as a father and show the child's mother that you are going to be a part of that child's life. As I'm sure that you realize, not every man in your position would be as willing to step up to the plate and care for a child both emotionally and financially. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for you, this child, and the child's mother. What you do now will have a tremendous impact on the life of that child.
To be clear, unmarried fathers have no parental rights without first acting. An old saying that I am a big fan of is that nothing moves unless it is shoved. This gives the impression that unless you take bold steps and have incredible initiative then you will miss out on opportunities for rights to make decisions for your child. You may be interested in seeing your child and spending time with him. This is a great sign for you and the future of your relationship with your child. However, what you need to do is establish rights and duties under the law in Texas.
When your child is born you as an unmarried father do not have the same rights and duties as a married man would concerning their child. You don't have any rights or duties concerning your child. That little boy or girl may be your genetic son or daughter but under the law, there is no relationship at this stage. An unmarried father has to take additional steps beyond being present in the room when the child is born and even signing a birth certificate.
In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to discuss how you as a father can establish your parental rights to your child when you are not married to the child’s mother. Rather than put yourself in a position where you feel stuck or like you have no options in front of you, why not take the time to go through today’s blog post to learn more about this subject so you know what actions you will need to take in the future when it comes to establishing paternity for yourself and your child.
If you have any questions about the material that we go through in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how to establish paternity.
The process is involved- more than what meets the eye
Some fathers that we have had the good fortune to work with have assumed that all they as unmarried fathers would have to do to establish paternity over their child is to sign a birth certificate when provided to them in the hospital. Some men do this and see to it that their names are included on the birth certificate and then will call it a day. Do not do this. This does not establish paternity if you are an unmarried father. Rather, there are steps for you to follow that we are going to cover with you right now.
Establishing paternity rights for a child helps both you and your co-parent. Your child's mother may be in a position where being able to receive child support from you will be essential to raising that child. This does not mean the sort of child support that you pay to your child's mother whenever she asks or whenever you have a few extra bucks lying around. Rather, child support in this context means going through a Texas family court to set up child support and have a court document providing information regarding a parenting plan, child custody, and child support. A man cannot have child support assessed against him under a court order until he has already been established as the legal father to the child in question.
If you are a mother who is reading through this blog post and wants to be able to help your child have a more comfortable and stable life, then child support is a direct route toward this goal. If you have been hesitant to acknowledge the paternity of your child’s father then allow this to be one reason why you may want to be more willing to accept having a father in the picture on behalf of your child. This can speed up the time when your co-parent can be assessed child support obligations and can also help you by providing another caretaker for your son.
What is paternity?
The legal relationship between you as a father and your child is what we mean when we talk about paternity. Paternity carries with it different rights and responsibilities. A right is the ability to do something for yourself or on behalf of another person. Rights are sometimes synonymous with freedoms. As a father, you want your status as the biological father to a child to be extended out to also become the legal father to that child. This is a crucial part of the equation for establishing paternity and building a life with your child. These rights and duties come about as a result of your legal rights and not your biological status alone.
What are the benefits of establishing paternity?
As the established father to a child, you need to be aware that there is a range of benefits that are available to your child and you when it comes to making sure that your paternity rights are established and that nobody can argue that you are not the father to the child. Your child can inherit property from you or a member of your family if you are.
Paternity- the legal relationship between father and child
In your mind, what do you want to get for yourself and your child out of your connection with him? Do you want to be able to help take care of him as an infant? Play blocks, read to him, and feed him meals? What about contributing to his educational savings for college? Teach him things in the short term like how to tie his shoes and how to read. Being able to take him swimming and to the park? These are noble aspirations to have. As a father myself these are all things that I have done and still do with my children.
However, before you can get to this point you need to be named as your child's legal father. Without that designation, you can't do any of these things. Or, rather, you can, but it can be taken away from you at a moment's notice. Once you are named as a child's father by a permanent court. There are only extreme circumstances under which a father's paternity rights can be terminated. As such, once you go through the effort to become a child's father you only must do it once and it can’t be taken away.
There are emotional, financial, medical, and inheritance benefits to your being named as the child's legal father. Emotionally, that child needs to know he has a dad. When you are named as his father by a court long before he is aware of anything that has gone on it provides him with a clear runway to develop a bond with you and you with him. Financially we have already talked about how child support cannot be assessed and an obligation from the court cannot be created until you have been named as the child's father from a paternity perspective.
One of the areas that many people do not consider when it comes to fatherhood and paternity is that by knowing who your father is you can gain some insight into different medical conditions that may impact you. Consider that if you are a person who has a family history of a certain type of cancer. However, this cancer risk can be mitigated if you take certain steps early on in life. Wouldn’t you like the opportunity to make sure that your son can take the same preventative steps that you were able to take? By going through the process of becoming the father legally to the child you can help care for his long-term health.
Another very important aspect of this discussion that often goes unnoticed is that of inheritance. The inheritance laws of Texas have everything to do with who are your legal relatives- children, spouse, parents, etc. Your spouse and parents are easy enough to prove but what about your children? If you are a man whose biological children are not your legal children you need to know that if something happens to you and you lose your life, your children will not be in line to inherit property from you unless paternity has been established. As we have gone over, children born of marriage are covered by a presumption of paternity.
How to establish paternity
All of this is a build-up to this discussion: how can you establish paternity in Texas? There are two routes that most people will take. The first is to obtain an Acknowledgment of Paternity and then fill out the form along with your child's mother. Once both of you have acknowledged the paternity of your child and then send the form to the State of Texas you are going to gain paternity rights to that child. There are no further actions that need to be taken. Paternity rights mean that you will have the same rights and duties to your child as any other father in Texas- married or unmarried. AOPs, as they are known commonly, can be found at the hospital where your child is born. Or they can be filled out online and submitted to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Austin.
The other route that is sometimes necessary for a parent to take is to file a petition to establish paternity with your local family court. This is usually done in a situation where the mother of your child will not acknowledge that you are the father of your child. It could be that she honestly believes that another man is the father. Or it could be that she just wants to make it more difficult for you to establish these rights and duties concerning your child. This is a shame in many ways, given that it will be more difficult for you to build a relationship with your child when you are not his or her legal father. By the same token, your child’s mother will not be able to establish child support. She may think that it is easier to go about being a single parent but that thought often changes once she has to pay all her child's bills herself.
If your situation requires a court case, you will be ordered to take a DNA test. A DNA test is the most straightforward way for you to establish paternity. The results of that DNA test will need to be reviewed by the court. These results are all that will need to happen during the paternity portion of the case. Once the DNA tests come back and they show that you are your child's father there is not much more that needs to be done as far as establishing paternity. From there you can work on the finer points of a court order like conservatorship, child support, and visitation.
Conservatorship refers to the legal rights and responsibilities that you hold concerning your child. In most cases, parents will be named as joint managing conservators. You would share most rights and duties with your co-parent. Visitation refers to the amount of time that the non-primary conservator would be able to spend with your child throughout the year. In those cases, you would need to think about your work schedule, the needs of your child and overall what is in his or her best interests. Once you have this figured out you can negotiate with your co-parent. If you all cannot agree on these subjects, you would have the family court judge make the final say.
Child support is a major factor in a child custody case. Child support means one parent will pay the other parent a certain sum of money, usually monthly, to help support that child. The guideline levels of support as contained in the Texas Family Code mean that a certain portion of your net monthly income would be paid to your co-parent in support if you are the non-primary conservator. Working with an experienced family law attorney is critical if you want to make sure that you are having a fair amount of child support taken out on behalf of your child.
Closing thoughts on paternity cases
There are a lot of moving pieces to a paternity case. Once you have established paternity it is not time to take a breather, either. You still must sort through all of the child custody issues that come up. It takes a plan to do well in these cases. You cannot wander into a paternity case and expect to do well. Rather, you need to be intentional and have a plan regarding how you want to present your case and prepare for all the different components that we have been discussing in today’s blog post.
Working with an experienced family law attorney from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is the surest path toward being prepared for your paternity case. There are finer points to this discussion that we were not able to get into for today's blog post. If you want to learn more about paternity and how to jump into a child custody case immediately after a paternity case, please reach out to our office today. We can schedule you for a free of charge consultation with one of our attorneys.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and a via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as how your family may be impacted by the filing of a paternity or child custody case.