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Paternity law fundamentals

Determining paternity could be a major step for both parents. This process establishes the legal identity of the child's father and his parental rights and duties under Texas law. Duties include child support for the child, providing information to the child about possible inherited medical issues and allowing access to benefits, which include social security, insurance and even veterans benefits.

Paternity is established by presumption, a voluntary acknowledgment or a court ruling. A man is presumed as the father if at the time of the child's birth he was married to the child's mother. This presumption may apply after the child was born if a man claims paternity on the birth certificate, there is a record promising child support or if the father continuously lived with the child and held himself out as the child's father for the first two years of the child's life.

A father may also execute an acknowledgement of paternity, which is filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit. The mother must also sign this form. In contrast, paternity is not presumed if the father signed a denial of paternity while the true genetic father executed an acknowledgment of paternity. A court may also rule that he is not the legal father.

A parent or other authorized persons can seek a court order establishing paternity, which can be filed before or after birth. Authorized persons include the mother, a man who believes that he is the father, a man who is the presumed father seeking an order that he is not the father or a person who is the intended parent in a gestational agreement. The Texas Attorney General's office, other government agencies, an adoption agency or an authorized representative may also initiate this action.

Courts have the authority to order that an alleged father is actually the legal father, that the alleged father is not the legal father, a change in the name of the child in question, that the Texas Vital Statistics Unit issue an amended birth certificate, a paternity test or that a party pay for court costs, a genetic test, attorney fees or travel costs. A court may also issue orders addressing custody, visitation, child support, retroactive child support and payment of medical expenses.

Resolution of parentage disputes and questions has to comply with state legal requirements and may be complex. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the situation and available options. This will help you protect your fathers' rights while also meeting the best interests of the child involved.

Source: TexasLawHelp.org, "Texas paternity law: Frequently asked questions," Accessed July 3, 2016

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