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.
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.).