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Fathers' rights: what does "father" mean, legally speaking?

Unmarried Dallas County fathers may be forgiven for feeling like second-class citizens in some ways. Fathers' rights have become a somewhat controversial subject, with often heated and emotional arguments being made on either side. But it is important for fathers to understand that there are some rights that are clearly written into the law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains on their Administration for Children and Families website some of these rights, as set out in both the constitution and Texas statute.

The U.S. Supreme Court itself has made some rulings relevant to fathers' rights, particularly in cases where unmarried fathers have tried to prevent the mothers of their children from giving those children up for adoption. Notably, the court has ruled in a number of those cases that when a father has a "substantial relationship" with a child, then that father's parental rights are protected under the constitution.

The matter becomes more complicated, however, when one tries to define what "father" means, which varies from state to state. Here in Texas, a man can be an "adjudicated father" or a "presumed father." While the former simply involves a court determination of fatherhood, a man could be a presumed father if he meets any number of criteria. Some of these include:

  • If the child was born to the man while he was married to the mother;
  • If the man married the mother after the child was born and took the legal steps necessary to voluntarily assert his paternity; or
  • If the man lived in the same home with child and "represented to others" that he was the child's father during the child's first two years of life.

The Texas Attorney General has discussed this issue before (as we discussed in a blog post from May) in greater detail as it relates to child custody and support in our state. Fathers with concerns about a family law issue involving paternity should understand that they do have some fundamental rights that are not open to interpretation by opposing viewpoints. If they feel these rights are not being upheld, they may wish to follow up with a legal professional.

Source: Child Welfare Information Getaway, "The Rights of Unmarried Fathers," accessed on July 25, 2014

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