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PATERNITY

 Disclaimer:  The legal information provided on this website is the product of Legal Aid NorthWest Texas (LANWT). None of the legal information on this website is associated with or the product of the Office of the Attorney General of Texas or any of its employees.

Q. How can I be listed as the father on my baby’s birth certificate?

A. Under Texas law, if you were married to the mother of the child when the child was born, your name will automatically appear on the baby’s birth certificate as the father of the child.

 

Q.  If you were not married to the mother of the child, there are two ways to have your name added to the birth certificate:

A. 

  1. By voluntarily signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity form; or
  2. By a court order.

See the Handbook for Non-Custodial Parents on the OAG website for more information. 

Q. What does paternity mean?

A. Both legally and biologically, the word paternity means the identity of the father of a child. Except in rare circumstances, when a woman gives birth to a child, she is considered the legal mother of that child. Every child also has a biological father. But if you were never married to the mother of your child, Texas does not give you any rights or responsibilities as the child’s father unless legal paternity is established.

A man is presumed to be the legal father of a child if he was married to the mother at the time of the birth of the child or the child is born before the 301st day after the date the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce. Unless paternity is established, a child born to an unwed mother has no legal father.

 

Q. How can the paternity of a child be established?

A. In Texas there are two primary ways to establish paternity for a child. Both parents can sign a legal document to establish the paternity of the child. This document is called an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). The second way to establish paternity is through a court proceeding.

The decision to voluntarily acknowledge paternity should not be taken lightly because it is an important one for both you and your child. If you are absolutely sure that you are the father of the child, and the mother agrees, you should both, voluntarily acknowledge paternity. Certain issues cannot be handled in the acknowledgement proceedings or Child Support Review Process (CSRP). For example, if you and the mother are unable to reach an agreement about visitation with the child or other rights such as the right to see your child’s school or medical records, you will have to go to court.

 

Q. What if the mother and I want to establish paternity as soon as the baby is born?

A. In Texas, if the mother of the child is not married, paternity can be established in the hospital at the time the baby is born by both of you signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity form. The AOP may also be signed before the child is born. If both parents have signed an AOP, no court proceeding on the issue of paternity is needed, and you can be held responsible for child support. You will also have the right to seek a court order for visitation or custody.
 

Q. If I do not establish paternity in the hospital, can the mother and I do it later without going to court?

A. Yes. You and your child’s mother can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form at a later date. It must include the signatures of both you and the mother.

If you sign the form after the hospital has already mailed the birth certificate, you will be charged a fee for changing the birth certificate to include your name as the father of the child. A completed Acknowledgment of Paternity form should be sent to the Vital Statistics Unit (VSU), 1100 W. 49th Street, Austin, TX, 78756-3191. The Vital Statistics Unit will not charge a fee to file this form. Please go to http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/vs/ for more information.

After both parents have signed an AOP, no court proceeding on the issue of paternity is needed, and you can be held responsible for child support. You will also have the right to seek a court order for visitation or custody.

 Q. I am under 18.  If I sign an acknowledgement of paternity form, will that make me the legal father of the child?

A. Yes. Under the Texas voluntary acknowledgment laws, there is no difference in how the government treats an adult or minor who signs an Acknowledgment of Paternity.

 

Q. I was never married to the mother of my child, and I am an undocumented immigrant.  I want to be declared the legal father of my child.  What should I do?

A. Your status as an undocumented immigrant does not affect your ability to be declared the legal father of a child born in this country.

To be declared the legal father of your child, you and the mother of the child can sign an AOP form.

If you sign the form after your child is born and the hospital has already mailed the birth certificate, you will be charged a fee to change the birth certificate to include your name as the father. A completed Acknowledgment of Paternity should be sent to the Vital Statistics Unit, 1100 W. 49th Street, Austin, TX, 78756-3191. The Vital Statistics Unit will not charge a fee to the file this form.

 

Q. What if, after signing the acknowledgement of paternity, I have reason to believe I am not the father?

A. If you sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity and you later decide you may not be the father, there are ways for you to withdraw your signing of the form. However, this is most easily done within 60 days of signing. After 60 days pass, the requirements for withdrawing your name are more difficult to meet.

If within, 60 days after the form is filed with the Vital Statistics Unit, one of you decides that you want to withdraw this acknowledgment, you have two options. The first option is to file a legal document known as a Petition to Rescind. You may only file a Petition to Rescind if you have not been part of a court case concerning the child. If both you and the mother agree that you are not the father, after you file the Petition to Rescind, the court will declare that you are not the father. If the baby’s mother receives welfare benefits, the State must also agree that you are not the father. If there is no agreement as to whether you are the father, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether you are the father.

There is also a second option. If you are summoned for a court proceeding about that child within 60 days of signing the Acknowledgment of Paternity, you may ask the court to cancel the AOP. The court will then decide whether to grant your request.

 

Q. What if 60 days have passed since the mother and I signed the voluntary acknowledgement of paternity and I realized that I may not be the biological father of the child?

A. If after the 60-day period expires, you no longer believe that you are the child’s father, you will have to go to court and file a lawsuit to contest the voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. To contest a voluntary acknowledgment, you must prove that the document was signed under conditions of fraud (someone lied in signing the document), duress (you were forced to sign), or mistake of fact (you thought one thing and another thing is true). Contesting an AOP will likely require the assistance of an attorney.

You must file a lawsuit to contest the AOP within four years of filing this form.

A minor who signs an AOP has 4 years from the date they reach the age of majority (18) to contest paternity.

Q. What if the mother says I am the father but I don’t think I am?

A. If you do not think that you are the biological father and you have not signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity, a suit may be brought against you to establish that you are the father. The mother, child, or government can sue to establish whether you are the biological father.

If you do not appear for a paternity hearing, the court can declare you to be the father of the child. This order is called a default order and may include an order to pay child support.

 

Q. Why would a mother force me to go through the legal process of establishing that I am the father?

A. In some cases the mother must establish that you are the legal father of her child because the State requires her to in order to receive financial assistance. She must cooperate in helping the State establish who is the father of the child, or the State will decrease the amount of support that it gives her.

Having a legal determination of who is the father of a child offers many benefits to everyone involved. For instance, the child will only be entitled to child support if a legal father has been named. In addition, you will only have the right to ask a court for visitation if you are determined to be the legal father. And the mother, by establishing paternity, will be able to receive financial assistance to help care for your child.

 

Q. What happens when I go to court for a paternity case?

A. You will first receive a document from the court. It is very important that you read and understand everything in this document.

When you appear in court, it will most likely be in front of a judge or a child support master. The court is supposed to provide an interpreter at no charge for any father who does not speak English, or for a father who is deaf.

In the court proceeding, you will be asked whether you admit to paternity or not. If you admit to paternity, a judgment will be entered and child support may be immediately ordered, or support may be ordered at a later hearing. If you deny paternity, a paternity test will likely be ordered.

If a paternity test is ordered, you, the mother, and your child must all appear for the test. If you fail to appear to take a court-ordered paternity test, the court may hold you in contempt. If there is sufficient proof, the court may also enter a default judgment declaring you to be the father.

 

Q. What should I expect if a mother claims I am the father of a child, but I say I am not and she takes me to court?

A. Every case is different and there is no guarantee for what you can expect if parents disagree on paternity and a lawsuit is filed.

If you can afford one, you have the right to be represented by an attorney at any stage of a paternity trial. If the mother can afford one, she has the right to be represented by an attorney at any stage of a paternity trial. The child support attorney from the Office of the Attorney General represents the interest of the State and cannot represent either parent or alleged parent.

A big part of any paternity suit is the paternity DNA test.

You, the State, or any other party has the right to request a paternity test. The government may pay for the test. However, if it is determined that you are the father, the court may order that you repay the government for the cost of the test.

If the court determines that you are the father of the child, you will be ordered to pay child support. If you request custody or visitation, the court is required to consider your wishes. If you wish to spend time with your child, it is important that you request this from the court.

 

Q. How important are paternity tests in paternity cases?

A. The results of the paternity test will determine what the court rules as to whether you are the father of the child. If the paternity test excludes you as the possible father, the court will rule that you are not the father.

 

Q. She says it is not my baby and she won’t let me have parenting time.  What should I do?

A. If you are not married to the mother of your child and paternity has not been established, you can file a petition with the court that you be declared the child’s legal father. If you can afford one, you have the right to be represented by an attorney at any stage of a paternity trial. If the mother can afford one, the mother also has the right to be represented by an attorney at any stage of a paternity trial. The child support attorney from the Office of the Attorney General represents the interest of the State. You may ask the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General to begin the court process of having you declared the legal father of the child.

You should begin by requesting a paternity test for the mother, the child, and yourself. If you request the tests, the court will order each of you to take one. If a court orders or the parties agree to paternity tests, the results of these tests will be a part of the paternity trial.

If the court determines you are the legal father of the child, you will be responsible for the child support. You will also have the right to request custody or visitation orders from the court. If you wish to spend time with your child, it is important that you make this request.

 

Q. I am not married to a woman who is pregnant with my child.  Could someone else adopt the baby without my permission?

A. Yes. Texas law requires unmarried fathers to act very promptly to establish that they are a baby’s father to avoid losing their rights if the child is put up for adoption. Unmarried fathers who have not legally established paternity should register with the state’s registry of paternity located at the Vital Statistics Unit, 1100 W. 49th Street, Austin, TX, 78756-3191.  To legally establish paternity means that you have filed an Acknowledgment of Paternity or had a court determine that you are the father of the child. You can register before the baby is born. But you must register no later than 31 days after the birth of the child. You will not be charged any money for registering with the state’s registry of paternity.

Not registering can have serious consequences. It may lead to your parental rights being terminated if you cannot be located.

If you do not register, you will be notified of a potential adoption only if you have filed a suit to establish paternity before your parental rights are terminated.

 

Q. I was worried that the mother of my child would place our child up for adoption. I registered with the paternity for registry within 31 days of the child’s birth. Is there anything else that I need to do to make sure that my parental rights are not terminated so that she cannot place the child for adoption?

A. Yes. You should be sure to notify the paternity registry any time there is a change in any of the information you provided to the registry. In particular, you should inform the paternity registry anytime you change your address.

If you do not tell the paternity registry of your changed address, the mother of your child may be able to get a court order to terminate your parental rights without your knowing about it. The mother would be able to do this because she was not able to provide you with the required notification. Once your parental rights are terminated, your child may be adopted without your receiving notice or having the right to object to this adoption.

 

Q. What are the legal benefits of establishing paternity for an unwed father?

A. If you have not been declared the legal father, you have no legal right to seek custody or visitation with your child.

Once paternity has been established, you become the legal father of that child, with all of the rights and responsibilities of a father who was married to the mother. The Texas Attorney General’s Office cannot help you obtain visitation with or custody of your child. There is no guarantee of the right to custody or visitation, but you have the right to raise the issue of custody and visitation in court.

If you sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity, you may go to court to ask for custody of or visitation with the child. If you establish paternity through the court system, the court is required to consider your wishes concerning visitation and custody. You should ask the court to order specific days and hours you can be with the child.

Establishing paternity also helps children. Your children might be entitled to Social Security, veteran’s benefits, or health insurance. Establishing paternity helps to ensure your child’s eligibility for these benefits.

 

Q. What are the legal consequences of establishing paternity for an unwed father?

A. If you are declared the legal father of a child, you will most likely be required to pay child support. If you do not get a child support order when you are made the legal father, there will likely be an order at another hearing or at some time in the future. Unless you have primary custody of the child, you will be responsible for child support. You may also be responsible for some of the costs of the mother’s pregnancy, the child’s health care expenses, retroactive child support, and other costs.

In Texas, many penalties can be assessed against a father who does not pay child support. Some of these penalties include: posting your picture in private and public locations and in the news, revoking your driver’s license, intercepting your tax refunds, denying occupation licenses, denying you state loans or grants, referring you to private collection agencies, reporting you to a consumer reporting agency, placing you in jail or on community supervision of probation.

You will also be required to pay interest on any past due child support. Child support judgments 9/1/93 - 12/31/03 had 12% interest, and judgments since 1/1/02 are entitled to 6% interest.

 

Q. Can paternity be handled without going to court?

A. Instead of going to court, paternity can be established and child support set administratively in a Child Support office through the Child Support Review Process (CSRP). If you have not acknowledged paternity, you have the right to ask for a genetic test. Paternity tests can also be ordered if there is doubt about the biological father's identity. No one has to appear in court if there is an agreement concerning custody, visitation, and support; and everyone signs the agreed order.