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Unmarried Fathers in Texas: Claiming Your Paternal Rights

You’re a father who wants to see his child, but you’ve never been married to the mother. Maybe the mother is blocking you from seeing the child. Or maybe not, but you want to be assured that your child gets all the benefits they are due as your offspring. And so, you find yourself asking if unmarried fathers have parental rights in Texas. The answer is yes...so long as it's proven you’re the father.

Establishing Paternity

Texas law is crystal-clear that a child’s birth mother automatically has custody when the parents are unmarried. Even if there remains an amicable relationship between you and the mother and she wants your support. Even if you were physically present at the birth. Even if your name is listed on the birth certificate as the father. Therefore, the essential first step in claiming paternal rights is to legally establish paternity.

Fortunately, there are workable options. You’ll have a few legal hoops to jump through, but regardless of what your current relationship status is with the child’s mother, there are pathways to establish your paternal rights.

Option 1: Did you, mother and child live together for at least two years after birth? If so, considers you to be the “presumed father.” Simply proving your common habitation is sufficient to establish paternal rights. Means of proving this can be anything from tax returns to a utility bill--anything official that shows you and the mother living at the same address in the first two years of the child’s life.

Option 2: An Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) document can be signed. This document does exactly what the title implies--establishes you as the father of the child. The mother also needs to sign an AOP. For situations where both mother and father want paternity established, it’s the easiest pathway to legal recognition.

Option 3: What if you haven’t lived together previously and your child’s mother is trying to shut you out? Are you out of luck? The good news is that there are still answers. DNA testing can establish you as the father. This does require a cheek swab of you, the mother and the child, but a court can order participation by all parties. To get the court order, you need to file a Petition To Adjudicate Parentage.

Claiming Your Rights

Now that you’re established as the father of the child, you will of course have the responsibility to pay child support. But you’ll also get the benefits that come with fatherhood. In legal terms, those rights are “access and visitation.” Put simply, you get to see your child and be a part of their life. That means the following:

  • You can designate your child as a beneficiary on everything from life insurance to your 401(k) to when you prepare your will. If you served in the military, your child now qualifies for any survivors’ benefits. This is particularly valuable for the children of active-duty service members.
  • Even if you’re not the custodial parent, your child cannot be moved out of the area without your consent.
  • Your child cannot be given up for adoption without your consent. This is particularly applicable to situations where an AOP can be signed at the hospital during birth.

All of these rights are important, but it has to be noted that they are broad. The specific implementations will still be decided in family court. For example, how often do you get to see your child? Who gets what holidays? For the important decisions, you may have the right to your say, but how much will that actually mean?

Family court exists to take every couple’s practical situation into consideration and shape the best possible solution for the child. Claiming your paternal rights ensures you will be a part of the process. A good lawyer can walk you through the process of establishing paternity, and work to help you secure the best possible arrangement moving forward.

Hembree Bell Law Firm, PLLC has attorneys who have personally been through challenging situations in family court. We understand what you’re going through and want to make what can be a stressful time as smooth as is reasonably possible. Reach out to us today, either online or by phone at (512) 768-9737. Let’s see what we can do for you.

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