Although it was once considered socially unacceptable to have a child out of wedlock, that taboo has slowly disappeared over the last several decades. In fact, it is relatively common now for a child to be born to unmarried parents. Recent estimates show that about 40 percent of births in the United States occur outside of marriage, up from 28 percent in 1990. If you are the father of a
child born outside of marriage, and you have yet to establish legal paternity, you could regret it, according to Fort Worth Paternity Lawyer Jon Boyd.
Having a child without being married is not just socially acceptable in the 21st century, many couples are intentionally foregoing marriage but still deciding to become parents. The reasons for this trend are complex; however, the important thing to note is that a significant percentage of unmarried couples are having children. If you are the father of one of these children, it is crucial that you understand what legal paternity means and why it is important to establish it.
A common – yet mistaken – belief is that a father’s name on a child’s birth certificate means that he is the father of the child. While it may mean that he is acknowledging to the world that the child is his, it does not legally establish him as the child’s father. If you have been counting on the fact that your name is listed as the father on your child’s birth certificate to give you rights to your child, you could pay a heavy emotional and financial price for that mistaken belief in the future. As long as your relationship with your child’s mother remains intact, your legal status may not matter; however, if that relationship ever takes a turn for the worse, you could find yourself banished from your child’s life.
In Texas, as in most states, the mother of a child born out of wedlock has all the custodial rights to the child unless, and until, the father legally establishes paternity. If your child’s mother decides to move out of state, or simply prevent you from seeing your child, your legal right to do anything is almost non-existent if you fail to establish paternity.
Ideally, paternity should be established immediately following the birth of a child. The easiest way to do this, assuming that u and the child’s mother agree that you are the father, is to sign a legal document known as an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” and file it with the state. Most hospitals will have the form available to be signed before the child even leaves the hospital. When the parents do not agree on the father’s identity, or if one parent refuses to sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity for any other reason, a court will have to determine the issue of paternity. The court will usually order a DNA test to determine if the putative father is actually the father. If the DNA test confirms that the man is the child’s biological father, an Order reflecting that result will be entered, and paternity is established.
Establishing legal paternity of your child is the first step in acquiring parental rights (and responsibilities). Until the law officially considers you the child’s father you do not have the legal right to parenting time with the child, much less to petition the court for conservatorship (what most other states refer to as “custody”) of the child should you want to do so in the future. While it may be difficult to see the need for establishing paternity while all is good with your child’s mother, scrambling to do so if the relationship takes a wrong turn can be emotionally and financially costly. It can take months, even years, to get a court order establishing paternity if the mother refuses to agree. In the meantime, you could find yourself without legal recourse if your child’s mother denies you the right to see your child. You may also be on the sidelines if any major decisions that affect your child have to be made.
Do not wait until your relationship with your child’s mother is in jeopardy to do something about paternity. If you have yet to do so, talk to your child’s mother about signing the Acknowledgment of Paternity as soon as possible. If she hesitates (or outright refuses) to sign the document, it is time to talk to a lawyer right away.
If you are a father who has additional questions or concerns about establishing paternity, contact an experienced Fort Worth Paternity Lawyer at Boyd Family Law to discuss your legal rights and options and schedule your appointment today.