In today’s day and age, more children are being born to unwed parents
than ever before – a reflection of the changes in our society. Some
parents do not plan on marrying, while others choose delay a marriage
until a later date.
Regardless of couples’ individual circumstances, the birth of a baby
is a joyous event. In order for unmarried couples to enjoy the full rights
and responsibilities of parenthood,
paternity must be established.
Establishing paternity means to establish who the “legal father”
of a child is. Once paternity is established, the father can be added
to the child’s birth certificate and the child may be entitled to
numerous benefits, such as
child support, inheritance rights, Social Security benefits, and health insurance among others.
What many fathers do not realize is that if paternity is not established
and they split up with their child’s mother, they may not have any
child custody or visitation. In order to take advantage of these rights, paternity must
be established legally. Witnessing the birth and claiming a child as one’s
own is not enough.
How is Paternity Established in Texas?
There are two main ways to establish paternity. One, the biological mother
and father may voluntarily sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP)
form, which is then filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit. Typically,
both parents sign this form at the hospital shortly after the child’s birth.
Once both parents sign the AOP form, the biological father is the legal
father of the child, his name is put on the birth certificate, and he
enjoys all of the same rights and responsibilities toward his child as
a married father.
A voluntary AOP may not be appropriate when family violence is a concern,
or when there is uncertainty over whom the child’s biological father is.
A second way for parents to establish paternity is through a court order
with the assistance of a private family law attorney. This method is common
when either parent is not sure who the child’s father is, or when
a presumed father did not learn that he was possibly the child’s
father until after the child’s birth. In this case, the child’s
DNA would be compared to the father’s DNA.
If paternity is confirmed through genetic testing, the father’s name
may be put on the child’s birth certificate, and he would assume
all of the rights and responsibilities of being the “legal father.”