The last post on our Dallas family law blog highlighted Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s remarks about the importance of establishing paternity, both to the father and the child. A recent story making headlines serves to illustrate in a more concrete way what can happen when a father’s parental rights are in dispute.

American film and television star Jason Patric has a 4-year-old son whom he has not seen in over a year. He and the boy’s mother had been dating for a number of years before conceiving a child together through in vitro fertilization. Patric describes himself as a willing co-parent, though the mother claims Patric was no more than a sperm donor.

The couple had no co-parenting agreement when they separated in 2012, and the mother retained sole custody. Patric tried to claim paternity, but a judge dismissed his claim, noting that the parents were unmarried and had no agreement to share parenting responsibilities.

Recently, however, an appeals court has indicated that Patric does have parental rights in this case, and the case can continue. One observer commented that for some time, the boy’s mother did seek to foster a relationship between her son and Patric, and for him to play the role of father, noting that this may bode well for Patric in his legal challenge.

Courts here in Texas also will typically consider having both parents involved in a child’s life as something that is in the best interests of the child. It usually requires some proof that a parent is abusive or otherwise unfit in order to completely deny a parent visitation rights, for example, but as we see in this case and in last week’s post, sometimes a father’s rights as a parent can be disputed in and of themselves if paternity has not been legally established.

Because these factors can complicate a case, fathers with concerns about a child custody matter may wish to consult with a family law professional. Parenting is not what it used to be, and sometimes legal steps are necessary to protect one’s rights.