There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to establish paternity in Texas. Let's start today's blog post by going through each of the three options. As an aside, I will be writing about each method from the vantage point of the potential/acknowledged/legal father.
Voluntarily establishing paternity
This is the most straightforward method of establishing paternity in Texas. If you and the child's mother both sign a document known as an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP), it removes any doubt as to who the legal father of your child is. From that point forward, the document will be filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Austin, and you are the official, legal father of your child.
To obtain this AOP form, you need to ask the hospital staff for it at the time of your child's birth. After they are born, several people will come by your child's hospital room to hand out and collect paperwork. One of these folks will be the one to provide the AOP to you. You can even sign the form before your child's birth- you will need to locate an entity that can give you the structure and file it for you. Proper identification must be provided in either context to sign the AOP.
Establishing paternity by agreed order
Next up, we will consider agreeing to your being named the legal father of your child in a child custody lawsuit; when people hear the word "lawsuit" being thrown around, all sorts of evil thoughts can enter their minds. However, I'll caution you that just because a lawsuit has been filed (either by you or your child's mother) does not mean that your next stop is the inside of a courtroom.
To establish custody, child support, visitation, possession, and other orders, you will first need to be legally named your child's father. This can be agreed to in your Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR)- the type of lawsuit and case that will be filed. You, your child's mother, and the judge will sign final orders that reflect that you are the legal father of your child.
If it is an "agreed" order, you and your child's mother must agree to the other portions of the order like custody, visitation, etc. If there is no agreement on these subjects, your case will be sent to a judge, and a trial will be had to legally establish your paternity and the inherent rights and duties in such a position. An agreed order is a one-stop-shop for all of the issues that come along with being a father to a child.
You can take the initiative and file a SAPCR case yourself with a private attorney, or you can contact the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to get child support services set up. The OAG will file a case and request that your child's father appear with you in a hearing where DNA testing will be ordered so that child support and other orders may be rendered.
Establishing paternity by court order
As it sometimes happens, you and your child's mother may disagree that you are, in fact, the father of the child in question. In this situation, you will need to seek a court order that resolves this conflict. Once a hearing has been had and genetic testing has been completed, you will be able to be declared the legal father of your child and have orders set up to allow for visitation and child support, among other rights and duties.
You can follow a similar path as the one we laid out in the section previous to this one. You can either seek to go through the OAG and have them file the case and notice you when a hearing is set, or you can hire a private attorney to file the claim on your behalf and seek an earlier hearing date to the one the OAG would set. Either way, you will want to do this as quickly as you can after your child's birth so that you can get legal "credit" for any support you are already providing for your son or daughter.
What if you're not 100% sure that you are the father of the child?
If you find yourself in a position where you are not confident that you are the father of the child, then you should get a paternity test done. This is part and parcel of a SAPCR case, but you can also seek a court order that obligates the child's mother to make the child available for DNA testing. Before getting the test, you may want to contact a family law attorney or the family law court in your area to get tested at a facility that is accredited to do this kind of test. The inexpensive place in the strip center by your home may not be the best course to take in this regard.
For a free test, you can contact the OAG, but in getting the free trial, if you are determined to be the child's legal father, you will be set up to start paying child support. The last point I will make on this subject is that if you take an over-the-counter test and it comes back positive for paternity, this evidence is not admissible in court. This means that you will likely have to go and take an accredited test regardless of the over-the-counter test named you as the father.
Are you in a position where you can establish paternity voluntarily?
The OAG trains and certifies people and entities in our State to administer Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) forms so that the child's biological parents may voluntarily note who the legal father of a child is. If you are a minor, you can sign the AOP without your parents' permission. The AOP will be available at the hospital or birthing center where your child is born.
What if you are married to a woman who gave birth to a child who is not your biological offspring?
You will still need to complete an AOP with your wife, but instead of acknowledging paternity, you will fill out a section that denies your paternity to the child. Until you complete this section and submit it to the State, you are presumed to be the legal father of this child. The other side of the coin is that the child's true paternity cannot be established until complete this step.
Can you take back the acknowledgment of your paternity as a child?
If you have a change of heart or become aware of facts that lead you to believe that you are not the biological/legal father of a child, you can fill out a Rescission of the Acknowledgment form that will rescind the AOP. Keep in mind that you have a deadline to do so, however. Within 60 days after completing the AOP, you must fill this form out, or if there is a court hearing pending, you must do so before the court hearing, even if it is sooner than 60 days after your having signed the AOP.
You can fight paternity in court under certain circumstances by denying paternity after initially accepting it. However, you should read the AOP from start to finish before signing it.
Questions on Paternity issues in Texas? Head back to our blog tomorrow to complete our discussion on
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