Imagine yourself in the following situation. You and your longtime boyfriend decide having a child is what comes next in your relationship. Both of you are “kid” people. You both enjoy playing with your nieces and nephews. You’ve each got a big heart for kids and family. After all the two of you have been together for nearly a decade now. The next item to cross off your relationship bucket list is having a child together. It’s an intimidating prospect- caring for your child- but you love each other. Taking the plunge, you all commit to having a child.
Next thing you know a baby girl is on the way. Life is moving quickly now. Instead of having a seemingly endless amount of time to prepare for life’s events, things are coming at you fast. Clothes for the baby. Getting a nursery ready. Make plans for your work soon. All of this is happening at a rapid-fire rate. So much so that you and your boyfriend don’t stop to think about the ramifications of having a child together as an unmarried couple. Is there a difference in having children when you are unmarried?
What the situation looks like for an unmarried couple who has a child together
Having a child when you are not married to your co-parent presents several considerations. These considerations require careful thought before taking on the massive responsibility of raising a child. Having a child outside of marriage means thinking about having a child as a greater commitment in some ways. This is especially true for fathers. Here are some of the major reasons why unmarried people are responsible for additional items related to their children.
Let’s consider how having a baby looks for married people. When a married couple has a child there are no additional steps that are taken to tie up any loose ends regarding subjects like paternity, child custody, or anything of the sort. The maternity associated with this child is not in question. There is no doubt who the mother of a child is. However, paternity is presumed regarding the husband of the mother. A married man, in other words, is presumed as the father of the newborn baby.
From there, paternity and maternity are already set up. These are the most essential components of a parent-child relationship. Everything else in the world of Texas family law is window dressing. Establishing who the parents of a child are will determine everything else. Rights, duties, custody, possession, access- the list goes on. Establishing paternity is what you need to focus your attention on as an unmarried parent.
Paternity as an unmarried father
You are an unmarried father to a child. Your significant other gives birth. You see a beautiful baby girl staring back at you. In an instant, your entire world is staring back up at you. Life won’t be the same, you think. That much is true. Your devotion to this little bundle of joy is commendable. Also, your appreciation for the complex nature of how life evolves is just as commendable. Focusing on where you go from here matters to you, the child’s mom, and to that baby girl.
No presumption for paternity applies to unmarried men. Married men are presumed to be the father of the child birthed by his wife. However, your significant other giving birth to a baby does not impact you as far as paternity is concerned. The two of you need to take action to establish paternity legally speaking. Biological paternity does not equal legal paternity, in other words.
Depending upon your specific circumstances this is more difficult than it first appears. Focusing on achieving this goal and objective is crucial as soon as you can attend to it. However, not knowing where to start is a problem. Working to collect the necessary information you need is essential. Keep reading today’s blog post so you gain basic knowledge of this process. Then reach out to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. A free-of-charge consultation is what you need to find out how your specific circumstances match up with this area of the law.
Acknowledging paternity- the easy way
We understand now that acknowledging paternity is crucial for an unmarried father. Being the biological father to a child carries with it no inherent legal rights or duties. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to step to the plate and put forth the effort to have yourself named as the legal father to your child. Again, legal paternity carries with it many benefits for you and your child. More on that later in this blog post.
Acknowledging paternity is as simple as completing an Acknowledgment of Paternity form. This is a government-issued form that can be obtained online and submitted to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Austin. It can also be filled out at the hospital after your child is born. The form may even be filled out before the birth of your child. The catch is that you and your child’s mother must both acknowledge your paternity and sign the document.
Here is the key. There are always clients who find themselves in uncomfortable situations like the following. You believe that a baby born to a woman you had a relationship with is your child. The timeline, if you see where I’m going, matches up just fine. You hear through the grapevine that this woman is going to have a baby. Sounds good to you. You call and text her. You contend that the baby is yours. The trouble is, she disagrees and cuts you off from her and your baby. What do you do?
Suit to Determine paternity- the hard way
Filing a lawsuit to determine paternity is the hard way to establish paternity in Texas. Nobody wants to have to go through this step, but it is often necessary. It can be necessary as a father to do so if you believe you are the dad and your mom doesn’t agree. Put the shoe on the other foot, now. You are a mom, and you need to establish paternity to set up child support, etc. When a father is not willing to acknowledge paternity, this is the other way to do so.
A petition to establish paternity must be filed before a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. The reason is simple enough: to establish child custody orders there must be paternity established first. Do not put the cart in front of the horse. A child custody case can be filed immediately after paternity is established. However, first things first: let’s get paternity established.
This can be done through a DNA test in most cases. Be prepared to potentially pay for a DNA test on top of the lawsuit. These results are very trustworthy and reveal if you are the father. Supposing that you are the presumed father to a child and believe the child is not yours, you need to go ahead and file a suit to establish paternity ASAP. There are situations where men are ordered to pay child support for a child who is not theirs. Waiting too long to contest paternity leads to a situation like this occurring.
Taking advantage of the opportunity regarding paternity
Once paternity has been established in your name it is your time to act. Being a part of your child’s life is essential to the well-being of him or her. Children do better with two parents in their life. Even if you cannot live in the same household as your co-parent your child still stands to benefit from you being present. This goal is furthered by child custody orders.
These child custody orders are laid out in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. Everything having to do with your relationship with your child is communicated through the court order in this type of case. Conservatorship rights and duties are foremost among them. Being the conservator of a child means having the right to make decisions for that child. It also means having the duty to care for and provide for that child.
Child support becomes a part of your life under these child custody orders. Gaining the duty to support your child financially should come as no surprise to you. This is an essential aspect of parenting. Even parents who see their children relatively little have a responsibility to raise their children from a financial standpoint.
Possession schedules as a result of establishing paternity
Parents also receive a possession schedule as part of their SAPCR orders. Depending upon the age of your child the possession is quite limited at first. However, as your child ages, you receive more time in many situations. This is known as a stairstep method of building custody orders. Whatever your relationship is with the child you can improve upon it using these custody orders.
Possession means being in the physical possession of your child. Possession means care and control. Access, on the other hand, does not necessarily mean care and control. It refers more to being able to communicate with your child when it is not your turn to see him or her. There are many moving pieces of a paternity and custody case. Establishing paternity, assuming a lawsuit is filed soon enough, is not hard. DNA testing sees to that.
What is a challenge is building a strong relationship with your child once your paternity is established. Working with an experienced attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is a terrific way to begin this process. By contacting our law office today, we can build with you a plan oriented towards whatever goals you have set out for yourself. Custody, possession, visitation, access, and child support. We help with all these issues.
How to handle custody questions when your co-parent is hostile
You are a well-meaning father who attempted to establish paternity through an Acknowledgment of Paternity. Try as you might to do so, it just did not work. Mom did not want you to be a part of your child’s life. She thought you would go away and allow her to try and establish paternity in another man. She was wrong. You stuck by your child and now you are the legally established father of your daughter.
Even though she must have known in her heart that you were the father, your co-parent was not happy about you having paternity established. Once you had paternity established the court arranged for you to meet with mom and a representative from the Office of the Attorney General. The Office of the Attorney General oversees child support payments in Texas. Rather than paying child support directly to your co-parent, you make payments through the Office of the Attorney General.
You can establish court orders through the Office of the Attorney General when parents agree with one another on not only child support but also custody issues. Your co-parent is not playing nice in the sandbox, unfortunately. She is hostile and does not want you to play any role in your child’s life. She is demanding that you pay child support and see your child rarely. This doesn’t sound like much of a deal to you. What are your options at this stage?
Working with an experienced family law attorney to establish rights and duties
I cannot recommend highly enough the need for you to hire an experienced family law attorney. Going to court is just like any other issue that you encounter in life. Would you try to pull your teeth or fill your cavities? What about changing your oil? Ever tried to cut your hair? I’m willing to bet your answer to all three questions is: no.
So, why would you try to go into a hostile environment with a hostile co-parent without help? Imagine climbing Mt. Everest without a guide to help you. That is a little of what life is like in a paternity case. You need the expertise and guidance of an experienced family law attorney to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself.
The lawyers with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are here to fill this need for you and your family. We are here to meet with you six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video for a free-of-charge consultation. Establish a game plan, set goals, and gain confidence. All of this is at your fingertips when working with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
Do unmarried mothers need to file for custody in Texas?
The answer to this question, if you have not figured it out yet, is no. Unmarried mothers have parental rights relating to their baby immediately. Unmarried fathers need to actively seek out parental rights. Unmarried mothers are not in the same boat. However, unmarried mothers do not have child custody orders set up automatically even though their parental rights are established the moment that the child is born.
First, most mothers are not in a position where the father of the child is filing a lawsuit for custody rights immediately after the birth of the child. Even if that did happen a court is unlikely to award a father any more than marginal visitation with a child during the first three years of a child’s life. There are a handful of reasons why this is the case. Foremost among them is that the child needs to be with the mother for food/eating.
Otherwise, it is a good idea for unmarried mothers to establish conservatorship rights, possession, visitation, and child support orders soon after the birth of their child. If you are pregnant, it is a good idea to already speak with an attorney to lay out a game plan for these topics once a child is born. That way you will not lose any time once you have recovered enough to proceed in case.
Closing thoughts on unmarried parents and custody
Unmarried parents go through similar custody questions as do married parents in a divorce. In some ways, child custody issues are the same regardless of the marital status of the parents. The most significant difference in circumstances relates to the rights of a man. Establishing paternity is the first and crucial step in establishing custody rights. Being on the ball and filing for paternity rights as soon as you can helps.
Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us here on the blog for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We value the opportunity to share information about family law matters with you. To learn more about our office please reach out to us today for 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. Interested in learning more about how your family is impacted by the material in this blog post? Contact us today.