Establishing and challenging paternity in Texas

Over the years, numerous studies and reports have detailed the benefits of having both parents involved in a child's life. From emotional to social and educational development, a child can thrive when both parents actively participate in raising their sons and daughters. Researchers note that children who are brought up by two parents suffer less distress, get more attention and benefit from greater stability in their younger years.

Whether through divorce or separation, there are times when having both parents in the child's life becomes more challenging. For unmarried couples, there is an additional hurdle that can affect child support obligations and visitation rights - establishing paternity.

Legal vs. Biological father

In Texas, there is a distinction between the legal father and the biological father. According to the Office of the Attorney General, when a child is born to a couple that is not married, the child has a biological father, but does not have a "legal father." After the child is born, an unmarried couple can establish paternity by signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity. Once this document is filed at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, legal fatherhood is established.

Access to children can be impaired without establishing paternity

While studies indicate the children of unmarried parents can benefit by having both parents involved in the child's life, there are times when this does not happen for different reasons.

Commonly, there is an assumption that the father may deny paternity to avoid child support obligations. Mothers, however, can also refuse to sign and Acknowledgement of Paternity if she believes someone else to be the father or there is a dispute as to the identity of the father. Conversely, a presumed father may sign the AOP, but may discover that he may not be the biological father.

In these situations, it is possible to challenge paternity, but timing is important.

Getting help

Aside from the benefits to the child, many mothers and biological fathers wish to help raise their children, even if they choose not to marry for one reason or another. But without establishing paternity, these parents can face challenges. A court cannot order a father to pay child support until paternity is established. Similarly, the biological father has no right to visitation unless he is declared the legal father.

In cases where these is a dispute over fatherhood or questions about paternity, it is important to work with an attorney. For fathers who wish to see their children or mothers who need support from the putative father, this process can provide that connection. It can also be the first step to participating in the child's life.