Paternity is the legal identification of a child’s father. When paternity is established the child’s genetic father becomes the child’s legal father with all of the rights and duties of a parent. Texas parentage cases entail much more than just determining the paternity of a child through genetic testing. They also provide a forum for the father of a child born outside of marriage to obtain legal recognition as a parent of that child and protection of his rights as a parent.
Establishing paternity secures a father’s rights as a parent. Also, children need and are entitled to:
financial support from both parents. A court cannot order an alleged father to pay child support until paternity has been established.
benefits, such as social security, insurance, inheritance and veteran’s benefits, from both parents if they are available. A child might not be able to claim benefits from the father, if paternity has not been established.
medical history. Children have the right to know if they have inherited any special health problems.
When parents are married the law presumes that the husband is the father of the child. If the husband is the father, nothing else needs to be done. Paternity is established by presumption. Paternity is also presumed in several other circumstances. A man is presumed to be the father of a child if:
he was married to the child’s mother when the child was born;
he was married to the child’s mother any time during the 300 days before the child was born;
he married the mother after the child was born and voluntarily claimed paternity of the child with the Vital Statistics Unit, on the child’s birth certificate;
or in a record in which he promised to support the child as his own;
or during the first two years of the child’s life, he continuously lived with the child and represented to others that the child was his own.
A presumed father is recognized by law as the child’s legal father unless: he signs a Denial of Paternity and the true genetic father (and mother) sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity, or a court orders that he is not the legal father.
When parents are not married, but everyone agrees on the identity of the child’s father, paternity can be established by filing a signed Acknowledgment of Paternity with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit.
Paternity of a child can also be established by a court. A parent, or other authorized person, may ask the court for an order establishing paternity of a child by filing a proceeding to adjudicate parentage of the child (also called a paternity case).
A paternity case may only be filed by the following people: the child’s mother, (if she’s deceased, then her parent, grandparent, sibling, or child); a man who thinks he’s the father; a man presumed to be the father, asking the court to order that he’s not the father, the child, or a person who is the intended parent in an approved gestational agreement.