Are You Really the Father? Establishing Paternity in Texas

A biological father is not the same thing as a legal father. In fact, in Texas, if a child is born to a woman who is not married, that child has no legal father. Establishing paternity is beneficial for the child, father and mother.

Benefits of Establishing Paternity

As well as the emotional benefits to the child, establishing paternity also has important legal consequences. Establishing paternity may qualify the child for health insurance and other benefits through the father's insurer. A child has the right to benefit financially from the father. In addition to potentially receiving regular child support, a child has a legal right to death benefits. Once paternity has been established, the child may be eligible to receive government benefits including Social Security and veteran's benefits.

Until paternity has been established, a father has no custodial rights and no right to parenting time with the child. Also, until paternity is established, a judge cannot order the father to pay child support. This is true even if the man was living with the woman at the time the child was conceived. If the child's parents continue to live together, establishing paternity is still beneficial. If the father dies and paternity has not been established, the child may be left without legal access to the father's estate.

How to Establish Paternity

Paternity can be established administratively by filing a form or judicially through court proceedings. It can save parents time and money to acknowledge paternity administratively. Acknowledging paternity can be as simple as each parent signing the Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form and filing the AOP with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Paternity will be established if the form is complete and accepted by the Bureau. At that point, the birth certificate will be amended to include the father's name.

A mother and father can sign an AOP at the hospital at the child's birth; it can also be signed in advance, but then the parents, and not the hospital, will be responsible for mailing copies of the form to the appropriate office.

If the either parent refuses to sign the AOP, the other parent should contact a family law attorney with experience in paternity cases to file a paternity petition in court.

What Happens in a Paternity Case

All parents have the responsibility to financially and emotionally support their children. Both parents have the right to access and visitation of the children, except under uncommon situations. Child support, conservatorship and visitation will be ordered by a court. Both parents must follow the court order - a parent cannot refuse to pay child support because the other parent is not allowing access to the child, and a parent cannot refuse access to the child because the other parent is not paying child support.

Why Parents Should Establish Paternity if Everything is Agreed

Even if the other parent agrees to help support the child now, it is not unusual without court orders for the parent to change his or her mind. The parent can become disabled or even die. In most cases, unmarried parents can get benefits for their child only if they establish paternity for the child.

For the parent making the payments, proving the amount paid to the other parent can be very difficult in the future without the appropriate documentation should the other parent want to dispute the amount of child support paid or dispute the agreed amount.

If you have questions about paternity, child support or child custody in Texas, contact a knowledgeable family law lawyer in your area.