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.).
Time is about up on the Amnesty Provision of the New Texas Mistaken Paternity Law: September 1, 2012!
Think you are the “Father” before the birth of the child and would like to find out using a new procedure? Now you are in luck! A new blood test has just become available which can determine paternity as early as the eighth week of pregnancy without an invasive procedure that could potentially cause a miscarriage. This new test requires only blood samples from the pregnant woman and the potential father. The price of the prenatal testing is currently around $1500.00.
What does Texas Family Code 160.502 say about this genetic testing before the birth of the child? A court shall order a child on prima fascia proof and other designated individuals to submit to genetic testing if the request is made by a party to determine parentage. If a request for genetic testing of a child is made before the birth of the child, the court or support enforcement agency may not order utero testing. If two or more men are subject to court-ordered genetic testing, the testing may be ordered concurrently or sequentially.
Now it is time for “fathers” or men who have been paying child support for children who are not their biological children to assert their rights.
Texas new law, Texas SB785, permits men on prima fascia proof who have been ordered to pay child support, without genetic testing, to request genetic testing in order to determine whether they are the genetic parent of the child.
But the clock is ticking. If you suspect that you are paying child support for a child who is not your biological child, you should file the petition before September 1, 2012.
After September 1, 2012, a man must file a petition to determine genetic parentage no later than the first anniversary of the date on which he becomes aware of facts indicating that he is not the child’s genetic father.
In order to file for relief under this new law, the man must have signed an acknowledgement of paternity or failed to contest paternity in the previous proceeding because of a mistaken belief that he was the child’s father based on misrepresentations that led him to that conclusion.
If the man had knowledge he was not the father at the time he signed the acknowledgement of paternity or the previous court order, the new law does not apply.
If the genetic testing concludes that the man is not the child’s genetic father, the court shall render an order terminating the parent-child relationship and terminating the man’s obligation for future child support. The law further provides that he may not be held in contempt by the court for arrearage if the test is negative.
The new order, however, does not affect the man’s obligations for child support or child support arrearages accrued before the date of the order. However, the accrued obligations are not enforceable by contempt proceedings.
If the court order states that the father listed on the birth certificate is not the biological father and the information can be removed from the birth record, then the birth certificate can be revised as well.
Even if the parent-child relationship is terminated, the man may request the court to order periods of possession or access to the child following the termination. The court may order periods of possession or access to the child only if the court determines that denial of possession or access would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being. The law directs the court to focus on the child’s well-being, not on the man or the mother’s wishes with regard to the man’s desire to continue seeing the child.
If you have been paying child support due to a mistaken belief that you were the father, the time to act is now. Remember the clock is ticking! If you suspect that you are paying child support for a child who is not your biological child, you should file the petition before September 1, 2012. If you wait to file for relief, you may be barred! Contact an attorney now!