Under Texas law, a man is presumed to be the father of a child if he is married to the mother. But what if no marriage relationship exists? In situations where a man fathers a child outside of a marriage relationship, paternity—i.e. fatherhood—and its associated parental rights must be established.

Establishing Paternity

Where no marriage relationship exists (or existed), paternity may not be automatically assumed. The one exception to this is if the father lived continuously in the same household as the child for the first two years of the child’s life and represented to others that said child was his own. In this case, paternity and all associated rights, privileges, and responsibilities are automatically assumed.

Acknowledgement of Paternity

In instances where marriage or continuous living with the child is not the case, a man’s parental rights must be established by other means before the father has any rights, such as visitation or custody. Ideally, this process should be completed before the child turns four.

The simplest way to establish paternity is with an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit (VSU). An AOP is a document that both parents voluntarily fill out which establishes the father’s rights and duties as a parent.

Court Order

In cases where the parents do not wish to fill out an AOP, such as if they have since separated or if it’s uncertain whether the man is actually the father, a court order can be used to establish paternity. This is an involuntary process—one of the parties involved is forced to accept the man’s paternity. The father, mother, or child (through a representative) files a Petition to Adjudicate Parentage with the county in which the child resides.

Court hearings follow, and DNA testing may be used to establish paternity or to rebut the above presumptions of paternity. If it is found that the man is the father, he is expected to fulfill the responsibilities of that role.

In any of these processes, a father’s rights attorney can facilitate the process. A skilled family attorney will be familiar with Texas paternity and child custody law and know how to best present the case, in order to establish parental rights and secure the father’s involvement in the child’s life. Board-certified family law attorney Mary Ann Beaty represents mothers, fathers, and children in paternity cases. Call (800) 491-7565 for a consultation.