The cost of an attorney is usually the most likely cause of why a person would consider not hiring one for their family law case. We know that there is a range of outcomes that are possible within a case. Great outcomes, good outcomes, ok outcomes, and bad outcomes are possible. We all would like to avoid bad outcomes and would like to achieve something as close to a great outcome as possible. Having an attorney can help you, in most circumstances, achieve better outcomes in a child custody case. Experience, knowledge, and having the heart of a teacher are just a few of the characteristics that an attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan possesses, for example.
One of the most important things that an attorney can help you do as a parent is establishing your paternity in a child. This may sound simple but in many cases, it is not. If you are the father to a child and you are not married to that child's mother, then there is no presumption that you are that child's father. Therefore, from the moment that child is born, you will not have paternity rights like a married father would. The right to make decisions for the child, the duty to support that child, and the legal right to spend time with that child are not guaranteed to you. Therefore, you must go through some additional steps to get all of that in place for yourself and your child.
First, know that by becoming the legally established father you are in a position now where you can have your name appear on the birth certificate of your child. Next, you can do something to protect your right to have a legal relationship with your child. Once paternity is established there is no situation where another man can come along and attempt to argue paternity. You will have the right to care for your child and make decisions for him. Before this process begins your relationship with your child is only biological. That does not carry with it any benefits from a legal standpoint.
For the mother of your child, some benefits come with your being named as the legal father to your child. For her peace of mind, it is beneficial to be able to have a dad helping out with raising a small child. Especially when it comes to taking care of an infant, she could use the help. Even if this is not a benefit that she considers immediately it is something that can enhance her quality of life as well as the quality of life for your child.
Another benefit for your child’s mother is being able to have child support ordered. This is probably the first subject on the minds of moms and dads as a new baby is born and a child custody case is around the corner. Not only can child support be ordered in a case but also, visitation, possession, medical support, and conservatorship issues. These are the essential elements that come with establishing the parent-child relationship. Therefore, you should be sure that you have yourself organized and ready to proceed into a paternity case once your child is born. If you are not able to acknowledge paternity through an Acknowledgment of Paternity, then you would need to do so through a court case.
Why does it matter for your child to establish legal paternity?
Let’s not overlook the benefits that go to your child when you establish legal paternity to him. It may not matter to him now, but his identity will be tied up in large part based on who his parents are. If he does not know his father and your family then part of his identity will be missing. To form an emotional bond with your child that stands the test of time you must first be able to form a legal bond based on paternity. This way you can have your rights established legally and always have the legal ability to spend time with your child and play a central role in raising him.
What are the different ways that you can establish paternity?
There is more than one way for you to establish paternity concerning your child. Again, if you and your child's mother are not married at the time that your child is born then there is no legal presumption that you are that child's father. Here is how you can go about establishing paternity concerning your child.
The simplest way to do this is via an Acknowledgment of Paternity form. When you are a biological father to a child you should look for an opportunity to sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity. Keep in mind that if you and your child’s mother sign the form then that is all that is needed for paternity to be established. However, bear in mind that if you find yourself in a situation where more than one man could be the father to a child then DNA testing will be necessary and that comes with a full-on paternity case through the courts.
An Acknowledgment of Paternity can be signed in the hospital where your child is born. Usually, the form is given to you and the child's mother along with information regarding the child's birth certificate, You and the mom can complete the form and give it back to the nurse. She will turn it in to whomever at the hospital works directly with the State of Texas on turning in and processing those forms. Turning in the Acknowledgment of Paternity does establish parental rights in you, but it does not go any further than that. You would still need to go to court to establish custody, visitation, and conservatorship rights and duties. However, if all you are looking to do at this moment is to establish paternity then the Acknowledgment of Paternity is the way to go.
You can also establish paternity through a court order. This is typically done by hiring a private attorney and then filing a motion to establish paternity or by contacting the Office of the Attorney General to file the same. The Office of the Attorney General represents the state of Texas and does not represent you or your child. When you go through the court one of the first things that they will do to verify paternity is to ask you for a sample of your DNA. If you and your co-parent agree on most of the issues of your case, then you can agree to attend a review meeting at an office for the Office of the Attorney General.
Keep in mind that if you go to a meeting like this with a representative from the Office of the Attorney General there is no guarantee that you will walk out of there with an agreement. There are many reasons for this. You may have issues that need to be settled first, like paternity, that make coming to a settlement impossible or at least directly against your interests. Or, there may be special needs involving the child that make settling on child support more difficult than in other circumstances. You may be difficult to negotiate with. The child’s mother may be difficult to negotiate with.
In a situation where you and the child's other parent are unable to agree on child support, you obviously won't be able to come to an agreement on anything else regarding a child custody case. It is then that you must go to court and have a judge decide the issues for you based on the evidence presented by both sides. This is a tough way to go because the judge may not know very much about your child or the two of you. Regardless, that is the way that the courts are set up in Texas. If you are worried about appearing in court or otherwise relying on a judge to issue orders that are appropriate your best bet may be to try your best to work out an agreement with your co-parent ahead of your court date.
For instance, if you both hire attorneys then you could talk with your attorney about scheduling mediation. Mediation allows the parties, their attorneys, and a neutral third-party mediator to have an opportunity to review the issues at hand and see if a settlement can be reached. Mediation is informal in the sense that it occurs outside of court so there will be less pressure on you and your co-parent. Usually, parties find that the more relaxed atmosphere of mediation coupled with the willingness of the parties to work together in that environment makes it a better place to come up with decisions than a courtroom.
Above all else, you need to go to court if you receive a piece of paper that states a hearing date is upcoming. Even if you don't believe you are the child's father, believe that you were given notice incorrectly, or even see that the court date is the following day. Not going to court should not be an option for you even if that means having to talk to your boss to get permission or to move around your schedule to accommodate the court date. The reason why I am so adamant about going to this court hearing is that a lot can go on in a hearing like this that you may not like and may not be in your best interests- or that of the child involved in the case.
First, a court can establish you as the legal father to a child even if you are not present. This may sound crazy to you, but it does happen, and it can happen to you. The child’s mother can present whatever evidence she chooses when you are not there. If that evidence points towards you being the father to the child, then odds are decent that you will be named as the legal father to a child even if you are not the biological father. Without you there to present counter-evidence and rebut her arguments you are putting yourself in danger of being named the father to a child who is not yours.
Other subjects can be decided as well once you are legally named as the father to this child. Child support, child custody, conservatorship, medical support- the list goes on and on. The whole game is wide open once a court names you as the child’s father. This entire discussion begins and ends with paternity. If you can prevent yourself from being named as the father of the child, then you can prevent yourself from having child support assessed against you. You will be on the hook for child support regardless of whether you eventually have your paternity overturned in a later case.
For instance, let’s say that you don’t attend a hearing with the judge and the child’s mother successfully makes an argument that you are her child’s father. Child support is assessed against you in the hearing, and you receive notification that you need to pay $750 per month to the child's mom. You know that you are not the father to the child, despite your now being named as the legal father, so you decide not to pay the child support. What could happen?
Even if you come back and successfully have paternity overturned you would still owe child support for all the months that you failed to make those payments. Even though you were never the father you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars in back child support. All because you did not attend the first hearing and dispute paternity. This is what it takes in a child custody case. If you can protect yourself from being named as the father to a child then none of this can come into being. Once you are named as a father all bets are off and you need to fight hard to have that designation overturned.
It probably will not matter if you have been paying for items that your child needs like diapers and formula instead of paying child support directly through the state of Texas. In the future, if you have child support assessed against you by the court you will still be obligated to pay for court-ordered child support through the Office of the Attorney General, and if you continue to make direct payments of support to your child's mother. Additional payments for other types of materials purchased by you would likely be seen as a gift to your child's mother.
Next, if you have a court date, we have already discussed how important it is for you to attend. Even if your court date is at 9:00 AM you should not assume that you will be able to have your hearing at that time and then be back to work before lunch. On the contrary, a court can call its cases in a variety of ways, and it would be surprising if you were done that quickly with the court. Therefore, when you talk to your employer about having time off from work to attend court you should be clear that it is possible or even likely that you will be gone all day.
Once you are in family court you need to understand that the term custody comes up in connection to a legal term known as conservatorship. Conservatorship has to do with your rights and duties as a parent. More specifically, you have certain rights to make decisions for your children and duties to care for them. Parents who have never been to court will still have these rights and duties it's just that their rights and duties are not going to be listed out in a family court order like yours will.
The best interest standard is one that will help guide the family court judge in your case when it comes to making decisions on behalf of your child. The best interest of the child standard attempts to look at the emotional and physical needs of your child, your parenting ability versus your co-parent’s ability as well as what your child wants. Your home and its stability of it will be judged against that of your co-parent, as well.
Throughout this process, you will be allowed to work with an attorney. While having an attorney is not required under the law it is to your advantage for you to consider hiring one. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are equipped to help you and your family. The first step towards building a relationship with our office is to speak to one of our attorneys regarding a free-of-charge consultation.
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 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 your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.