Unmarried fathers and paternity in Texas

Unless they are married to their children’s mothers, men must act to establish legal father-child relationship and access their parental rights.

When couples have children, a legal father-child relationship is not always established. In such cases, men have no legal right to see their children or be involved in their lives. Thus, in order to preserve their father's rights, it is important for unwed fathers to understand how paternity is established in Texas.

Since paternity is not presumed unless a couple is married or specific other circumstances exist, men must take steps to establish their parent-child relationship. They may accomplish this voluntarily or with the assistance of the court.

Voluntarily acknowledging paternity

In situations when men are not automatically presumed the fathers of their children, they may choose to voluntarily acknowledge the relationship through an administrative process. The acknowledgement of paternity, or AOP, is a form that must be completed and signed by both parents and submitted to the Texas Vital Statistics Unit. Once on file, this form is considered a legal finding of paternity. Completing this process grants men their parental rights, as well as their parental duties.

Establishment by court order

Sometimes, couples may not be certain who the father of a child is or disagree regarding a child's parentage. In these types of circumstances, it may not be possible or advisable for them to voluntarily acknowledge paternity. Therefore, the parents may seek assistance from the court. Seeking court ordered paternity may be initiated by opening a child support case with the Texas attorney general's office or with help from a private legal representative.

To help make parentage determinations, family law courts in Texas may order those involved to undergo genetic testing. This testing analyzes a child's genetic markers, helping identify whether a man is likely to be the child's father.

Why is it important to establish paternity?

Establishing parentage is beneficial to men, as well as their children. For fathers, taking this step gives them rights toward their children. This allows them to seek a custodial order or visitation arrangement, and to be involved in the decision-making for their children's upbringing. Having a legal father-child relationship allows children to know both sides of their families. Further, it affords them the ability to obtain support and benefits from both of their parents.

Accepting responsibility for children they bring into the world is an important step for all Texas parents. For unmarried fathers, however, the process may not be straightforward or easily navigated. Thus, it may benefit men who have fathered children outside of wedlock to consult with an attorney. A legal representative may explain their rights, as well as help them determine how best to proceed given their unique circumstances.