When the custodial parent of a child dies, in the state of Texas, not only is the child and family union devastated, but now is presented the difficult issue of who will become the child’s guardian. Who are the possible candidates that may be legal guardians?
- Non- Custodial parent, if paternity is acknowledged
- Other relatives
- Godparents, Family friends, Neighbors
- State Foster System
Usually, the surviving non-custodial parent will have an automatic right to custody of the child. Texas law favors a child having a solid relationship with both parents and in the event of death, the living parent will take over permanent exclusive custody of the child. What factors should be considered in the child’s best interest that could determine custody by the surviving parent if he/she is not appropriate for the child?
- Did the court, after the divorce, terminate your parental rights in a legal proceeding? If the non- custodial parent had legally been terminated of his/her parental rights this is binding and the terminated parent WOULD NOT be granted permanent custody of the child.
- What if the custodial parent remarried and the new stepparent legally adopted the child? If the child was legally adopted by the stepparent and the non-custodial parent had waived their parental rights, the stepparent would be granted permanent custody of the child.
- What if the non-custodial parent has acknowledged parentage, but paternity has not been established? To be entitled to custody of the child, the father would first claim parental rights through paternity testing to determine if he is the biological father of the child or if he has signed the child’s birth certificate. After Paternity is established, a separate legal proceeding may need to be initiated to override the terms of the mother’s will.
- What if the Custodial Parent created a will that stated the grandparents/godparents would take over as the legal Guardians of the child in the event of death? Many parents will request a particular person or group, such as grandparents, relatives, or godparents to become guardians for their minor children in the case of their demise, but a child is not a piece of property to give away to others when the other biological parent is living. The judge will view what is in the best interest of the child and will always first look at the surviving parent. If this parent meets basic standards the child will live with this parent. If the surviving parent cannot serve the child’s best interest, then the judge will consider the guardian designated in the deceased parent will.
Nacol Law Firm P.C.
A baby born to unwed parents does not have a legal father under Texas Law. In order to exercise your rights as a father, including visitation and possession, a man must be a child’s legal father. A common misconception is that if your name is on the birth certificate you are a legal father. If you are not married to the mother, simply putting your name on the birth certificate of your child is not enough to make you the “legal” father and you cannot enforce your rights to the child.
The process to become a legal father is a simple one. If the biological father and the mother agree, they can both sign an “Acknowledgement of Paternity” which is filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Once paternity has been established, your name will be placed on the birth certificate, and the Court may order you to pay child support and grant you visitation or possession rights with your child.
TEXAS FAMILY LAW §160.301. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF PATERNITY
The mother of a child and a man claiming to be the biological father of the child may sign an acknowledgement of paternity with the intent to establish the man’s paternity.
TEXAS FAMILY LAW §160.302. EXECUTION OF ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF PATERNITY
An acknowledgement of paternity must:
Be in a record;
Be signed, or otherwise authenticated, under penalty of perjury by the mother and the man seeking to establish paternity;
State that the child whose paternity is being acknowledged:
Does not have a presumed father or has a presumed father whose full name is stated;
Does not have another acknowledged or adjudicated father.
State whether there has been genetic testing and, if so, that the acknowledging man’s claim of paternity is consistent with the results of the testing;
State that the signatories understand that the acknowledgement is the equivalent of a judicial adjudication of the paternity of the child and that a challenge to the acknowledgement is permitted only under limited circumstances.
An acknowledgement of paternity is void if it:
States that another man is a presumed father of the child, unless a denial of paternity signed or otherwise authenticated by the presumed father is filed with the bureau of vital statistics;
States that another man is an acknowledged or adjudicated father of the child; or
Falsely denies the existence of a presumed, acknowledged, or adjudicated father of the child.
- A presumed father may sign or otherwise authenticate an acknowledgement of paternity.
Paternity is defined as the quality or state of being a father. Many issues arise in the face of a father being denied access to his child or wondering if he is truly the child’s father. Where paternity of a child is in question, a mother or alleged father may ask the court to determine paternity of one or several possible fathers.
Most paternity actions involve a child born out of wedlock. However, paternity actions also occur between married persons where someone other than the husband is the father of the child, or where the husband has fathered a child outside of the marriage. There is a presumption that a child born to a married woman is the child of the husband. However, this presumption can be overcome by DNA or other valid evidence.
If you are questioning paternity, think about when the child could have been conceived. Consider when you had relevant or timely intercourse. Understand that paternity is determined by testing DNA from the father and the mother through the use of genetic fingerprinting. DNA testing is done by drawing blood or by taking a buccal swab, when cells are wiped from the inside of the mouth with a cotton swab. These tests can determine the father of a child with up to 99% accuracy. DNA testing is currently the most advanced and accurate technology to determine parentage. Generally paternity testing is paid for by the father.
If you file a paternity suit, you can request the court order DNA testing. A court may order the mother, father and the child to submit to testing. Paternity testing can be done during pregnancy or when the child is as young as one day old.
Paternity proceedings can be filed by the alleged father, mother, child or child support division of a state. A private action for paternity is usually prosecuted to secure child support payments from the father, parenting time with the child, and/or fair rights and privilege allocation.
Some men are confident that they are the biological father and wish to maintain a legal relationship with the child whether or not they are the father and thus either initiate paternity actions or consent to the entry of a paternity order. The paternity order entitles the father to visitation time with the child and creates a legal duty for the father to provide for the support of the child in addition to awarding him rights and privileges regarding the child’s future development.
When you consent to the entry of a paternity order, absent fraud, you consent for life. Most jurisdictions will not allow you to escape the consequences of that order, including the requirement of payment for the support of the child. If there is a chance that you will resent the child, or wish to break off the relationship with the child or, if you ultimately learn that you are not the child’s biological father, make certain you obtain a DNA test before legally admitting and therefore confirming that you are a child’s father.
Custody of a child can either be awarded to the father or the mother in a paternity action depending on the facts. Child support in a paternity action is generally set according to state law standards unless the parties sign an agreement providing for the payment of child support that is approved by the court.
Reasons to establish paternity: to provide the child with a needed identity; to confirm rights, privileges and duties of a parent; to know the health history of both the mother and father for medical care and treatment of a child; establish financial support for the child; establish health insurance coverage, social security eligibility, inheritance and other benefits; and seek public assistance where qualified.
Recently the news covering the custody battle between Bode Miller and his child’s biological mother Sarah McKenna became a 24-hour news cycle. According to court filings, Ms. McKenna while still pregnant moved to New York from California to attend school. Approximately a month prior to Ms. McKenna’s departure from California, Mr. Miller filed a paternity and custody suit in California State Court. Two days after the child was born, Ms. McKenna filed a custody case in New York State Court. The New York family court decided that the Ms. McKenna had “fled” California with the child in utero; and, while this was not child abduction under the UCCJEA, the Court decided the move was simply to avoid the California Court’s jurisdiction. Further, the Court decided that the prior paternity/custody suit filed in California by Mr. Miller, “trumped” the New York filing as well, giving California statutory authority to decide the custody issue. In On November 14, 2013, the New York Family Court’s decision was overturned on appeal and was remanded back to New York family court for further decision on all issues.
This case has ignited a debate over whether a mother may move an unborn child to a different jurisdiction prior to the birth of the child.
Even if you have not been proven to be the biological father of the child, in Texas, you still have legal rights that may be enforced.
Prior to the birth of the child, you may request a DNA test from the court. If the mother agrees paternity can be determined even before the baby is born. In addition, now there are non-evasive and less risky options for prenatal testing for paternity.
A purported father does have the right to establish paternity. Establishing paternity in Texas can be a process that occurs prior to the birth of the child. There are several forms of pre-natal testing available. Some methods are costly and some methods more invasive than others. In Texas, a man can establish paternity prior to the birth of a child by filing a request for adjudication of parentage and voluntary litigation. If the mother agrees to prenatal testing the Court will accept the DNA test results and make a determination on the record. However, if the mother does not agree, a Court may not force her to have invasive testing on the fetus.
A purported father has a right to a custody determination although this right cannot be determined prior to the birth of the child. In Texas, a court has jurisdiction to decide custody issues if Texas is the “home state” of the child. In the case of a child less than six months of age, “home state” means “the state in which the child lived from birth with a parent. . . .” Tex. Fam. Code Ann §152.102(7); see also Waltenburg v. Waltenburg, 270 S.W.3d 308, 315 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2008, no pet.).