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Specialty tag(s): Paternity

Paternity Rights Under Texas Family Law

Ryan R. Bauerle | April 10, 2024

Texas paternity laws establish the legal rights of fathers to parent their children. However, being able to actually exercise these rights starts with establishing paternity. This can be done in a few different ways:

  • Paternity by acknowledgment occurs when the parents sign a document (typically at the hospital when the baby is born) called an “Acknowledgment of Paternity,” which affirms who is the biological father. After a Texas Acknowledgment of Paternity is signed, the document is sent to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Austin.
  • Paternity by court order is the legal avenue used when either the father or mother files a paternity action with the court, during which the parent-child relationship between the child and father is formally established. The court often orders genetic testing to confirm paternity if there is a question about the identify of biological father.
  • Presumed paternity occurs when a child is born to married parents, and Texas paternity laws presume that the mother and her husband are both the biological and legal parents of the child. Absent an action challenging this presumption, paternity rights in Texas are established.
  • Adoption establishes a parent-child relationship as if the child had been born to that father.

What Rights Do Fathers Have in Texas?

Fathers, like mothers, typically have certain legal rights, assuming paternity is established via an Acknowledgment of Paternity in Texas or some other method. These paternity rights include the right to possession, the right to give consent for medical care in certain situations, the right to direct moral and religious training, the right to confer with the other parent regarding the child’s health, education, and welfare, the right to consult with the child’s educators and medical professionals, the right to access school and medical records, the right to attend school activities, including school lunches, performances, and field trips, and to manage the estate of the child to the extent the estate has been created by the parent or the parent’s family.

Does a Father Have Rights if He’s Not on the Birth Certificate?

If the father is not married to the mother, and his paternity not been formally adjudicated then no. In fact, an unwed father will not even be able to sign the birth certificate until after he signs an Acknowledgment of Paternity in Texas because the parent-child relationship is not yet legally established.

In this scenario, they have no legal rights to conservatorship, possession, or access, nor can they be required to pay child support.

To ascertain legal rights, the father must actively establish paternity to be deemed the legal father.

Do Fathers Have Rights in Texas if They Aren’t Married to the Mother?

Yes, but unmarried father’s rights in Texas depend entirely on whether or not they have established their paternity, as noted above. If paternity has been established, then an unmarried father’s rights in Texas are identical to the parenting rights of a married father. Conversely, if they have not yet had their paternity legally recognized, they have no legal rights to the child. In that scenario, the father should initiate steps to legally establish the parent-child relationship.

How Do You Contest Paternity in Texas?

Paternity can be contested in a variety of ways, and the proper avenue for contesting paternity largely depends on the time frame. Generally speaking, the best practice is to take action as soon as possible.

Generally speaking, an Acknowledgment of Paternity can be rescinded within 60 days of execution or on the date when a paternity lawsuit is initiated, whichever occurs first. However, an Acknowledgment of Paternity may still be rescinded after this deadline upon a showing of fraud, duress, or mistake.

If paternity has already been established, the party contesting paternity should seek genetic testing, and their Texas paternity attorney should file a petition with the court asking to terminate the existing parent-child relationship.

In the case of a presumed father (such as in a marriage), they should file a denial of paternity in their divorce case if they’re seeking to contest paternity immediately. This occurs in contested paternity cases where the mother had an affair during the marriage and her husband is not the biological father.

A presumed father seeking to contest paternity must file suit before the child’s 4th birthday. However, an exception to this rule generally applies. According to the Texas Family Code, such a case can be filed at any time if the court decides that “(1) the presumed father and the mother of the child did not live together or engage in sexual intercourse with each other during the probable time of conception;  or (2) the presumed father was precluded from commencing a proceeding to adjudicate the parentage of the child before the deadline because of the mistaken belief that he was the child’s biological father based on misrepresentations that led him to that conclusion.”

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About Ryan Bauerle

Ryan Bauerle is an accomplished litigator and skilled negotiator who strives to secure favorable settlements for his clients both in and out of court. He collaborates closely with his clients to thoroughly assess the advantages and disadvantages of their legal options, including cost implications, enabling them to make informed and efficient decisions about their next steps. Ryan is Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in family law and a fellow of both the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and International Academy of Family Lawyers. His accomplishments have also been acknowledged through his recognition as a Super Lawyers Rising Star and his inclusion in the Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch and a Best Lawyer in America list in multiple years.

For inquiries regarding Texas paternity laws, feel free to reach out to Ryan Bauerle at 214-903-4798 to arrange a consultation.

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