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Paternity issues in a Texas family law case: Getting past the awkward to stabilize your child’s life

If you are a mother reading this blog post and are questioning who is the biological father of your child it is likely that you have thought more than once about how much you wish you did not have to deal with this subject. I get it. As a father and a family law attorney, I know exactly what it means to want to do what is best for your child. I also know how frustrating it can be to have to face down a legal system that doesn't exactly make it easy for you to get things done. You may know that you need to establish paternity of your child but you have no clue where to begin.

Well, coming to this blog is a great first step. Let’s spend some time today talking about how to establish paternity of your child and why it is a good idea to do so. Along the way, I will share with you some of the nitty-gritty, ground-level steps that you will need to take care of in order to move on to the next phase of your life. Whether you are enthusiastic about including the probable father of your child in their life or are more reluctant to do so, establishing paternity is one of the most important things you can do your child's, your own and the father's lives.

An Acknowledgment of Paternity and its impact on your case

If you have yet to give birth or have recently done so, it is not too late to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity that states who the father of your child is. Keep in mind that you are stating under oath that a man is the father of your child. Do not sign the form unless you have no doubt who the father is. Speculating or guessing can put you, your child and other people into a messy situation that will be difficult to sort things out of.

However, an Acknowledgment of Paternity can be obtained from the hospital after or before giving birth or even from your local social services office. You can fill out the form and have it sent to Austin to be filed in the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Keep in mind, however, that unless the man whose paternity you are acknowledging also sends in an Acknowledgment, your form has no legal effect. It takes two of these forms to establish paternity for a child. 

You will run into a problem if the man you are alleging paternity in denies that he is the father. A Denial of Paternity can also be filed with the state when a man denies that he is a child’s father and wishes to do so formally. In that case, you and he are at a standoff. Unless you move forward with a paternity lawsuit there will be no man established as your child’s father. 

Paternity Lawsuits in Texas

A paternity lawsuit seeks to determine the parentage of a child in Texas. Other issues like custody, possession, child support, etc. can also be sorted out within a paternity lawsuit, but the primary goal of one of these suits is to determine who the legal father of a child is. Genetic testing is the method used to establish paternity and must be done after the child is born. 

A question that I receive from the potential father of a child is how much time he will get to spend with his child after paternity is established. I have figured out that after having represented many fathers in all sorts of family lawsuits that our culture has created a sense in fathers that their rights are not equal to those of a mother. This is simply not true. Just because you needed a paternity test to establish that you are the legal father to a child does not mean that you have any less of a right to see your child and play a role in raising that child. 

In the future, if the mother to your child does not allow you to see your child it will be necessary for you to file an enforcement lawsuit against her to have the court become aware of what is going on. Keep in mind that you cannot call the police if your child’s mother is refusing to allow visitation to occur. You can do that, but it is likely that they will tell you that this is a civil matter and that they are unable to do anything. Until then, you will need to document the times and dates that you were denied visitation. 

Do not wait to file a paternity lawsuit if you believe that you are the father to a child

You are not going to be granted paternity rights to a child that is biologically yours unless you do something about it. Note that there are plenty of men who are biological fathers to children and have zero legal rights to raise that child. The main reason for this problem is that fathers did not do anything to establish paternity during the early years of that child’s life. If you do not want that to be your reality it would behoove you to speak an attorney about establishing paternity rights for yourself early rather than waiting until later to do so. 

On the other hand, if you are not the father of a child and a mother is trying to have you named as that child's parent, it is worthwhile to know that a mother can go after child support for that child until two years after that child turns 18. Do not assume that just because the child is no longer a legal child that you cannot be held responsible for retroactive child support. It is not unheard of for a man to be established as the legal father of a child when the child is 18 or 19 years old. At that point, the child is an adult but you still have to pay back child support for the years that support was not being paid. This can happen whether or not you are the biological father or not.

What happens after your family law case has ended?

So far we have been discussing the steps inherent in family law cases in general. Now it is time to discuss what happens after a family law case has concluded. So much of your energy to this point will have been spent on preparing for your case and then working towards achieving whatever goals you have set out for yourself. Those goals are as diverse as the people who initiate family lawsuits, so if you are still wondering about your case and what your goals should be it is a worthwhile idea to sit down with one of our attorneys to talk more about that. 

Otherwise, once the dust has settled on your family law case it is time to live life according to whatever orders were created in your case. For some of you, life will be a little different now that your prior court orders have been modified to some extent. For others, your court case may have been a divorce or initial child custody proceeding where you are now living a much different life than you had become accustomed to previously. Whatever your specific circumstances are, it is important that you work within the orders and abide by what is contained within them. 

If you are the parent to a child, those orders that pertain to your child will be in effect until your child either graduate from high school or turns 18- whichever event occurs later in time. I have had a client whose ex-husband stopped paying child support under the mistaken idea that he was no longer required to because his daughter had turned eighteen in February of her senior year of high school. Keep in mind that he had to pay support through the end of the school year. So, it pays to know exactly what your final orders require of you.

Keep in mind that if your child has special needs it is probable that your child support orders do not require you to stop paying support when your child graduates from high school. Rather, you are likely ordered to pay child support for a longer period of time due to your child not being able to go out and earn an income at that time. In many cases, you will be responsible for paying support for the rest of your child's life. The onus would be on you or your ex-spouse to become the legal guardian of your child after that point if he or she is unable to care for themselves.

A Texas court cannot force you to pay support to your ex-spouse after the child turns 18 or graduates from high school under typical circumstances. Despite what you may have heard from other people, you cannot be ordered to pay for your child’s college costs against your will. It is possible, however, that you could be ordered to pay for college after you have already agreed to do so in mediation or in informal settlement negotiations. Once the judge signs the order you will have to pay for college or face the consequences of an enforcement lawsuit. 

One way to avoid the legal responsibility to pay for your child's college education is to not agree to include it in your divorce decree or other child custody orders. It is a good thing to have the instinct to pay for your child's college education. If you are in a position where you can do so then it is a blessing for your child. However, you are not obligated to do so. Your child is an adult when he or she begins college and your duty to provide for him or she has ceased.

So, if you are not entirely sure that you will be able to pay for their education according to the terms of your final orders do not agree to that. The judge won’t force you if the case goes to trial. It is better to plan to pay for their education and then pay as much as you can if you cannot pay for the whole cost. This way you are doing something great for your child and not putting yourself in a potentially risky legal position. 

When child support comes to an end

Any wage withholding order that is distributing money from your paychecks directly should no longer have any effect once your child turns 18 or graduates from high school. However, you may need to go the extra mile to ensure that these payments stop coming at this stage. You can contact your human resources department and show them a birth certificate and high school diploma to prove that that the withholding order does not need to be followed any longer. In rare cases, I have seen parents go to court to get the judge to sign an order that officially states that child support payments no longer have to be made. Termination of that child support obligation is necessary. You can contact the Office of the Attorney General, but if payments still are being made after graduation it is worth your while to contact an attorney.

Appealing, modifying or enforcing a court order- tomorrow’s blog post topic

In tomorrow's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we will discuss what it means to appeal, modify or enforce a prior court order. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we have covered today 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 where your questions can be answered and need to be addressed directly. Thank you for your time and we hope that you will join us again tomorrow.

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