If you are a father to a child and are not together with the child's mother, you may have questions about how you can positively impact your child's life. Maybe the mother won't let you see the child for some reason- or no reason at all. Perhaps you are doing your best to provide for that child but are between jobs or are underemployed. You may not be in the situation you envisioned yourself being as far as having a child and being able to develop a relationship with them, but that's ok. The main thing to keep in mind is that you can play a meaningful role in your child's life.
The Texas Office of the Attorney General works on our State to ensure that children are cared for, and their basic needs are met. Their primary method of administering child support payments is by receiving them from noncustodial parents like yourself and sending those payments to custodial parents like your child's mother. Whether you know it or not, these child support payments have an impact on your child that can be profound.
Before we discuss this relationship and how meaningful it is, let's take a step back and go over some terms that you may encounter if you pursue a family law case in the future.
Defining what a noncustodial parent is
The parent who does not have primary custody of your child is the noncustodial parent. This means that your child lives primarily with the custodial parent and sees you based on whatever visitation rights are contained within your court orders. An essential piece of information to be aware of is that just because your child does not live with you primarily does not mean that they cannot develop a relationship with you or that you cannot influence that child's life.
Defining what a custodial parent is
The managing conservator of your child is the custodial parent. In our example, your child's mother would have the legal right to determine your child's primary residence. This goes back to what we mentioned a moment ago- your child lives primarily with their mother and sees you based on any visitation orders that you have. The big thing to remember is that there are no proper parenting "roles" until a court order is created. Until then, neither of you are custodial or noncustodial parents.
Fathers: pay attention to this section.
Even though you do not get to determine where your child lives primarily, you still have rights as far as spending time with your child and knowing where your child is at any given moment. A huge misconception that many fathers have is that courts will always name the mother of your child as the custodial parent, and you will be named the noncustodial parent. This is not the case at all, and I'd like to take some time to discuss that with you.
If you believe that most families take on the above parenting roles- with mom as the custodial parent and dad as the noncustodial parent- you would probably be right. It does seem like more moms are the primary caretakers, while dads come in on the weekends and spend time with the child while not at work. If you want this to be your family dynamic, that would be fine.
However, if you want to play a more significant role in your child's life, my advice to you would be to spend as much time with your child as possible. Whatever sort of flexibility you have in your schedule, you need to take that time to spend it with your child. The reason why moms almost always are the primary conservator of the child is that dads forfeit the right to argue for being the primary parent because they voluntarily give mom more time than they keep for themselves. There is nothing in the mother-child relationship that is superior to the father-child relationship.
Paternity and child support and how they are related
If you want to be a committed and involved father, there are steps that you can take to back up those noble goals with actual effort. For one, the simplest thing I can tell you is that you cannot ignore the official paperwork that you get from the government. For instance, if you get a notice from a court telling you that you have a hearing date, you need to go to that hearing. This is not an optional appearance. You don't have anything more important going on that day. Even your job needs to take a backseat.
When you receive notice of a court date, it is time for you to alert your boss that you need to take a personal day. Even if the notice says your hearing is set to begin at 9:00 a.m., it may start much later in all actuality. Take the entire day off, so you're not spending the day worrying about making it into work late. The judge in your case can make decisions regarding your relationship with your child with or without you present. Unless you are comfortable with the judge making those decisions without you, you must attend any court date you are made aware of.
If you are not the legal father to your child, you must attend a court date. You will need to be given a paternity test to be biologically proven to be the father to your child. Only then can you have any legal rights as far as having your child and making decisions on that child's behalf. So, be prepared to attend any court dates that relate to your paternity. The future relationship between you and your child could be at stake.
Signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity may bypass your need to attend a court date.
Instead of having to go to court to have a judge adjudicate parentage for your child, you and the child's mother could choose to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity instead. This form is a legal document that you and the child's mother would fill out that certifies that you are the child's biological and, therefore, legal father. The forms would be sent to the State, and you would be able to take on legal parenting responsibilities due to that. Note that you and the child's mother must both turn these forms in. A single Acknowledgment of Paternity has no legal bearing.
I should note that only unmarried parents of a child will need to fill out Acknowledgments of Paternity. The law in Texas presumes that if you are married to a woman who gives birth to a child, the child is your biological offspring.
Know what you are getting yourself into before you take the plunge and sign a document
Signing a legal document is not something that can easily be reversed. Therefore, you should read the entirety of anything you plan to sign your name to before you do so. At the very least, even if you make a mistake and the effects can be reversed, it will invariably cost you time and money to do so. Avoid putting yourself in this sort of mess by carefully reviewing anything placed before you- even if the person seems trustworthy or works for the government.
Consider your legal options before pursuing a case.
Family law cases are usually very fact-specific. This means that depending on the circumstances of your specific case, the proceedings could go very smoothly or could be rocky. For instance, if more than one man could theoretically be the father to your child, this will be a complicating factor for you if you want to be legally designated as the dad. Another factor to consider is whether or not the mother to the child is willing to allow you to see your child until a court order is ready to go.
My point is that if you are in a difficult position and have been told that the mother of your child will not allow you to see them, it may be for the best that you hire an attorney to represent you. Yes, an attorney costs you money. However, what an attorney will also do is save you time in having to work towards drafting documents and making arguments in court.
Another option you could potentially pursue would be having the Office of the Attorney General open up a paternity case. Keep in mind that the Office of the Attorney General represents the State of Texas and not you or your child's mother. However, if you lack the resources to hire a private attorney, the Attorney General can file a case after you contact them.
In addition to determining parentage to your child, a paternity case can eventually sort out issues regarding custody, visitation, possession, and child support. These elements will all be included in the final orders of your cases. Final orders will ensure that you have an opportunity to contribute monetarily to raising your child and will also help make sure that you have court-ordered visitation with your child.
In a case filed for paternity reasons, you will undergo a DNA test. Typically these tests are administered at no cost to you or your child's mother.
Come prepared for any court hearing or appearance.
If a court determines child support in any of these hearings, you must come prepared with documents to help a judge verify your income. Tax returns, pay stubs, and anything else that you have can show a court how much money you earn on a monthly and yearly basis. Your net monthly resources will be determined, and then a percentage of those resources will go towards your child support obligation. This is assuming that you will be named as the noncustodial parent, of course.
In the future, if you find that you cannot pay the required amount of child support every month, you should pay as much money as you can. Partial payments are better than no payments at all and will reflect a willingness on your part to pay as much as you can, as often as you can, towards the care and upbringing of your child. The Office of the Attorney General can also initiate child support enforcement cases on behalf of Texas. If you have shown a willingness to make partial payments, your case may avoid future court dates.
You are looking ahead; if your income takes a dip, you need to contact their office as quickly as you can to alert them to this. Your responsibility to pay support will not end, but at least by notifying them, you are doing your parent to avoid any surprises.
More on child support, paternity, and the Office of the Attorney General will be posted tomorrow.
Thank you for sharing part of your day with us here on our blog. We like to share information with people in our community and those of you living around the world. Any questions about the material included in this blog can be addressed to the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
Similarly, if you have any questions about your family circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week to answer any questions you have and offer feedback that you can use in your daily life. We take a great deal of pride in serving our community and look forward to an opportunity to help you and your family in the future.
If you want to know more about what you can do, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: "16 Steps to Help You Plan & Prepare for Your Texas Divorce"
If you want to know more about how to prepare, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: "13 Dirty Tricks to Watch Out For in Your Texas Divorce, and How to Counter Them" Today!"
Other Articles you may be interested in:
- 12 Texas Custody & Conservatorship Battle Tips
- 8 Tips for Reducing the Cost of a Divorce in Texas
- 6 Tips for Getting a Free Divorce Consultation
- 6 Tips - On How to prepare for a Texas Divorce
- 3 Tips on Things You Shouldn't Do in a Texas Divorce
- 15 Quick Tips Regarding Filing for Divorce in Texas
- 6 Tips - On How to prepare for a Texas Divorce
- Roadmap of Basic Divorce Procedure in Texas
- Child Custody Basics in Texas
- 6 Mistakes that can Destroy Your Texas Divorce Case
- 10 Quick Tips About Parental Visitation
- Does it Matter who Files First in a Texas Divorce?
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's essential to speak with one of our Houston, TX, Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.