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 rights to 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.”