The word paternity, simply put, means the legal determination of who the father of a child is. Being the biological father of a child is the first step towards becoming the legal father to a child, but without a determination, as to who is a child's legal father there are no rights and duties that exist until that point. There can then be no legal relationship, no duty for a man to care for a child and help to raise her.
Any father could tell you that there is a bond that develops the moment their child is born. That child becomes your responsibility, and then something just clicks into place. From that point forward there is a bond between you and that child that can’t be shaken. The fact that you are legally obligated to support and raise that child is just further indication of how strong that natural bond is. Make no mistake, that legal relationship is extremely important both for you as a father and for the child herself.
If you are married to the mother of your child then that legal relationship begins the moment your child is born. From that point forward you are that child’s father. It is presumed that if your wife gives birth to a child while she is married to you, that child is yours. You don’t need to do anything to declare paternity of that child in yourself.
The same cannot be said if you are not married to the mother of your child. If your child is born without you being married to her mother, you will have to go to extra lengths in order to be acknowledged legally as the father of the child. The process of establishing paternity is essential to creating a legal bond between you and your child, as well as furthering the already natural bond that you feel with your offspring.
How unmarried parents can establish paternity in Texas
There are two basic ways that you can establish paternity of your child in Texas. The first is the easiest, fastest and least expensive: sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity declaring yourself to be the father. If you do this, and the child’s mother does as well, you will henceforth be the legal father to that child. It is necessary for both parents to sign this form. You signing it by yourself does nothing.
If an Acknowledgment of Paternity cannot be signed, then you can also be declared the legal father to a child via a court order. A Suit to Determine Paternity of your child could be filed and a DNA test could be administered to make a determination as to what man should be named as the legal father to a child. This option tends to be necessary if you contest fatherhood of the child, the child's mother does, or there is more than one man who could reasonably be found to be the father to the child.
How significant is a paternity determination?
Paternity means that you are legally connected to your child. There are benefits that you, your child and the mother of your child can derive from this relationship between you and your kiddo. Let’s go over some of those now.
As far as you are concerned, you will be able to have your name on the child’s birth certificate. This is probably the most important legal document that you will be able to get your name on, other than any orders from a judge that establish paternity and provide custody, visitation and possession rights in you. Establishing paternity goes towards solidifying your role in your child’s life moving forward. If your child’s mother is hostile to you being a part of your child’s life then you especially need that legal designation. Without it, you will not be guaranteed any time with your child. If you want to play an active role in parenting your child then you need to be established as that child’s father.
Benefits for your child's mother are also important to consider even if you and she are not on the best of terms. You are providing the child’s mother with peace of mind that there is another adult who is responsible for that child’s well being. Even if she isn’t close with you, it is the assumption that you both will be able to set aside your differences and parent that child together as best you can. Not only does paternity create a legal relationship but it creates stability for your child as well.
Next, if your child's mother would like to set up court-ordered visitation and support you will first need to be determined to be the legal father of her child. The paternity process allows you all to establish not only paternity but rights, duties, possession, custody, visitation, and support orders as well.
Finally, your child will also benefit from your being established as his or her legal father. It is important to establish an identity for him or her. Imagine not knowing an entire side of your family when you were growing up. By not establishing paternity early on in your child’s life that will be the reality for your child.
How will a court determine who the legal father of your child is?
Let's spend a little more time discussing how a court can determine that you are the father to your child in a legal sense. First, you and your child's mother can voluntarily agree to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity. You may want to get a DNA test before signing this form, however. When your child is born in the hospital there will be hospital personnel that will come around with paperwork for you to sign. The Acknowledgment of Paternity is one of those forms. You can even sign this form before the birth of your child. Keep in mind that if you want to get orders in place for custody, visitation, and support you will still need to go to court.
The other option available is to go to court and have your paternity established by a judge. You or the child’s mother can contact the Office of the Attorney General, hire a private attorney or even file a paternity suit yourself in order to get the process started. However, considering how complicated this sort of case is and how important it is to your future it is not advised that you proceed without representation from an attorney who has handled these sort of cases before.
DNA testing will be a part of the hearing. Swabbing your cheek is all this usually takes. Once you are determined to the genetic and legal father to a child, you can choose to have custody, visitation, possession, and support took care of within the paternity case. A Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) is the name of this process within the overall paternity case.
If you receive a piece of paper telling you that there is a court date upcoming in regard to potentially establishing you as the father to a child you will need to attend that hearing. It is not a suggestion from the court but rather order from a judge. Not only will you lose out on the opportunity to present evidence and argue your case, but you will have an upset judge on your hands as well. Do not put yourself in a position where you lose the ability to have a say in how much time you have with your child and how much child support you have to pay to raise that child.
What do you need to know before going to court in a paternity case?
You need to do whatever it takes to be able to attend court on the day of your paternity hearing. If you have work then you need to request time away so you can attend your hearing. Keep in mind that important issues, even that of you being legally declared as the father of a child, can occur in your absence. Certainly issues like child support, visitation, possession and other issues can also be decided with or without you in the courtroom.
Even if you are helping to support your child by buying supplies, clothes, diapers, etc. that will not suffice as far as the need to pay child support is concerned. You will likely not receive credit for the direct payment of child support for having done these things. Whatever you pay directly to her will not be counted and you will end up owing any amount that has not been paid through the Office of the Attorney General.
Preparation for court- what you can expect to encounter
First of all, your case will be heard by a judge. Your case will almost certainly not be the only cases on the docket that day so you can play to be sitting in court all day long. Do not tell your work that you will be back by 10:00 a.m. because the odds that you will are very, very slim. A courtroom is a place where you need to be on your best behavior. No loud or flashy clothing should be worn. Do not attempt to listen to music or videos on your phone. In fact, many courts bar people from using their phone under any circumstances.
Make no mistake, you can hire a private attorney to represent you in a paternity case and my recommendation is that you absolutely should. If someone tells you otherwise, I would ask myself if you trust yourself to know how to maneuver your way around a complicated legal case the end result of which involves your fathering a child and taking on the responsibility of raising that child into an adult. I think if you are being honest with yourself you would say that you need some help in doing that.
When you are in court the judge will address your attorney directly if you are represented. As a result, you need to make sure your attorney knows what you want to do as the issues are concerned. Once you are named the father of the child what sort of visitation, possession, and custody are you interested in. Child support and medical support will be set. Custody and visitation are up for debate and evidence will be considered to determine what sort of orders are implemented.
Speaking of custody and visitation- what sort of impact will these subjects have on your case?
You will likely be named as a joint managing conservator of your child which means that you share in the duties and rights of raising that child with your child’s mother. As long as it is in the best interests of your child you will be able to spend a great deal of time with him or her throughout the year, and can also pay support towards his daily care.
In tomorrow’s blog post we will lead off our discussing by covering a Standard Possession Order and what it means for you, your child and your paternity case.
Questions about paternity cases in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
There is no group of attorneys better suited to assist you with your family law case that the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We work tirelessly on behalf of our clients to help them achieve their goals in courtrooms across southeast Texas. For a free of charge consultation please contact us today to see what our office can provide to you and your family.
Our attorneys work in every courtroom in southeast Texas and have earned a reputation as being diligent, honest, hardworking and effective in advocating for the people of our community. We would be honored to speak to you today about how we can assist you and your family in regard to whatever family law related circumstances you are facing. Thank you for your time and we hope you will join us again tomorrow here on our blog.