For the past couple days we have discussed paternity issues on our blog. An important document that is related to paternity is an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). This is the form that you and your child’s mother can formally declare you to be the legal, biological father to your child. Without having paternity settled you are not able to get set up to pay child support, receive visitation time with your child or any of the component parts of parenthood under a Texas court order.
What we have not discussed yet is actually what the AOP says and what you are signing up for, beyond a formal acknowledgment of paternity of your child. While you may not be able to access one of these forms immediately I wanted to share with you some of the “fine” print that you will be agreeing to by signing the document.
Warnings at the outset: Surprise, this is a legal document that you are signing
First of all, the document warns you that if you are not sure that you are the biological father of the child in question here that you should not sign the document. This is pretty straightforward. You need to be absolutely sure that you are the child’s father. This means you shouldn’t rely on what the mother, or the mother’s mother or your buddy told you. How you get to the point where you are sure is up to you, but be sure about this before you sign the document. It is difficult to withdraw your acknowledgment of paternity although it is not impossible.
Obviously the only way to be nearly 100% sure is to take a genetic test before you acknowledge paternity. By signing the document you become the legally established father of the child and are responsible for the care and upbringing of the child. At the end of the day nobody can force you to sign the agreement, however.
Benefits of paternity outlined in the AOP
The child whose paternity you are acknowledging will receive immediate benefits from you after you sign the document including the right to inherit money from you as well as benefits under social security, military and veteran’s benefits were you to pass away. If you have health insurance you can add your child to your policy in order to provide him or her with coverage.
Although you may be in your living room, in an office or a hospital room, the effect of signing the AOP is the same as receiving an order signed by a family court judge. You are legally established as the father of the child by filling out and signing this form. This means that you have rights and duties that entitle you to having a say in educational and medical decisions among other rights. You will also now have a duty to support your child and to assist in their rearing. This duty is also met by paying your child’s mother child support as well as providing health insurance if it is available to you at a reasonable cost.
When can an AOP be signed?
You can sign an AOP along with the mother before your child is born, at the time your child is born or after the child is born. Keep in mind that if you have a court date pending in order to establish paternity there will be no need to fill out an AOP as a judge’s order will take its place after a paternity hearing. Note that if you sign the AOP before the birth of the child the AOP will only be valid in relation to a child born within 300 days of its being completed by you and the child’s mother.
How to deny paternity if you are married to a woman who gave birth to a child
If you are in a situation where your wife has given birth to a child that is not yours, you can deny paternity of the child using an AOP. Note that if a child is born within 300 days of your divorce to your ex-wife you are presumed to be the legal father to that child due to he or she having been conceived during the course of the marriage. You must then deny paternity in either scenario using the AOP. There is a specific section called a Denial of Paternity that will need to be completed.
This can be done by agreement if your spouse or ex-spouse agrees to deny formally that you are the father of the child. The best case scenario is one where the actual, biological father of the child acknowledges paternity in the same form. Unless all three signatures are contained in the agreement, it will not be accepted by the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Once the document is accepted and filed you will no longer be in a position where you will be the legal father. You would have no obligation to pay child support in the interests of the child nor would you have the legal right to possession and visitation of the child.
What if you change your mind about the whole thing?
If you or the child’s mother has a change of heart about acknowledging your paternity (or denying it) you or she may file a Rescission of Acknowledgment of Paternity. You must do so within sixty (60) days of filing the AOP with the Bureau of Vital Statistics or before you go to court in order to attend a proceeding related to paternity.
Once you get beyond sixty days since the time you acknowledged or denied paternity you will need to file a lawsuit in order to rescind your acknowledgment or denial. To be successful in a lawsuit you will need to prove that fraud, duress, misrepresentation or a mistake of fact caused you to sign the denial or acknowledgment initially.
Can you sign an AOP if you are not an adult?
Minors are able to consent to and sign an AOP without their parents' permission. The same procedures that I laid out in the section above this one are in place for minors who want to rescind either an acknowledgment or denial of paternity.
A final word on an AOP
One of the pieces of information that I provided for you in this section that is the most important is that this form is not just a piece of paper that you sign and forget about. The mistake many people make is that because an AOP is relatively easy to obtain and sign it has no significant legal bearing. This could not be further from the truth. When you and your child’s mother both sign the AOP it becomes as formal and legally enforceable as a hard fought order from a family court judge.
You are now the legal father of a child and that comes with significant responsibilities, the sort of which we have already discussed in this blog. However, these rights and duties are not specifically laid out in terms of a specific amount of child support that you owe to your child’s mother on a monthly basis or the frequency with which you are able to see your child for visitation. To get orders on this subject you must file a lawsuit with a private attorney or seek child support orders through the Office of the Attorney General. Until then you may be at the mercy of the child’s mother and how willing (or unwilling) she is to allow you time with your child.
Questions on AOP? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC
If you have any other questions regarding the subject of AOPs, paternity and any other subject in family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with a licensed family law attorney. It would be our honor to answer your questions and to provide you with information that you can use to make good decisions for yourself and your family. We serve families in and around the Houston area and do so with a great deal of pride.