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Texas Paternity Laws

Not Married With Kids? What to Know if Going Through a Breakup

Video Transcript:

Jillian French:

Not every state's going to have this. So if they have an encounter somewhere else and then they come back to Texas, it's not going to work.

Rob Rosenthal:

What do you do if you're breaking up, but you have children together? Well, that's what we're going to find out, because that's what we're going to ask the lawyer today.

Hi again, everybody, I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com. My guest is Austin attorney Jillian French with the Vaught Law Firm. Remember, if you have specific questions about your situation, you can go to askthelawyers.com, click on the button that says “Ask a Lawyer”, and you can do the asking there. Jillian, good to see you again. Thank you for helping us out.

Jillian French:

Good to see you.

Rob Rosenthal:

So let's talk about unmarried parents in the state of Texas. What is paternity law? What do they need to know?

Jillian French:

First, the biggest difference is going to be whether or not you are an alleged parent or father, whether you're an assumed father or a presumed father. And that sounds all very complicated, and it all depends on what the living situation was like; did you acknowledge this child as your child at any point? Did you sign the birth certificate? If you did, did you later sign an acknowledgement of paternity and file it with the bureau of vital statistics? So the first question that will be asked is, is your relationship with this child formally recognized in any way? Once we answer that question, we will know how to proceed from there.

Rob Rosenthal:

So you mentioned if the unmarried father is on the birth certificate; is that all you need to establish paternity at that point?

Jillian French:

So all you need is an acknowledgement of paternity, which can be the birth certificate; something that is filed with the bureau of vital statistics. So something that has the father's signature. If the mother for some reason does not let the father sign the birth certificate, the father can still attempt to file an acknowledgement of paternity with the bureau of vital statistics. Although at that point, if the relationship is over and the mother is not letting the father sign the birth certificate, it honestly would just be better to file a suit to adjudicate parenthood, having a Court formally recognized the father as the father of the child.

Rob Rosenthal:

What if the father doesn't want to sign the certificate? What if contests and says he's not the father, but his name was put on the certificate. What happens then?

Jillian French:

If he doesn't sign the birth certificate, they will not put his name on the birth certificate. If he has questions about paternity, he has every right to ask for a genetic test. Sometimes the hospital will do them; sometimes they'll say, “Well, we're just not going to put you on the birth certificate. Go get a genetic test, and you can just get added later if you guys determine that you're the father.” One of the things I tell my clients is, “I know that you probably don't want to make your significant other upset, but there are so many times where someone signs a birth certificate assuming the child is theirs, and lo and behold, ten years later, they find out the child's not theirs and it's too late to do anything about it.”

Rob Rosenthal:

So let's go with the scenario we started with. Say you're breaking up; it’s after the baby is born, there's a break up, what is the process for custody and child support and all that stuff?

Jillian French:

So if you are on the birth certificate or acknowledged as the father in some way, then you can just file a regular custody suit saying that you are the acknowledged father, you’ve got the birth certificate signed or some other form of legal documentation acknowledged. If you don't, then you're going to file something similar, but it will be called a suit to adjudicate parentage. A lot of the times if, say the break-up occurs and the mother says either to be truthful or to be hurtful you're not the father, therefore you can't see the child right, then the suit to adjudicate parentage is going to involve some genetic testing. The court will order the genetic testing, the mother will have to bring the child to the facility, the lab; the father will have to go to the lab as well, pictures will be taken, DNA will be done, and the lab results will be sent to the court as well as the parties and their attorneys.

Rob Rosenthal:

So my next question might have just been answered by that, but say the mother is denying parenting time before any sort of a custody agreement or paternity agreement is in place; is there anything the father could do in that situation?

Jillian French:

This depends on whether or not they're already recognized as a legal parent. So if there is an acknowledgement of paternity or some other birth certificate or something that's been acknowledged by everyone that this person is the father, they have the same legal rights as the mother; legal rights are conferred upon them at that point. Now, whether or not they go and take the child from the mother and start having this tug of war with the child is more of a custody issue—which is never advisable to start a tug of war. The best thing to do is, again, start at a court case, get a possession schedule in place, that way you have your guaranteed court ordered time.

Rob Rosenthal:

You started off by saying, “This sounds complicated.” But maybe it's not as complicated as it sounds, or maybe it's just not complicated to you, but it does sound like you need to get an attorney involved to get any of this done and taken care of.

Jillian French:

Yes, and also something that comes up fairly often is a child may be adopted or the parental rights may be getting terminated with no notice to the father. If the father hasn't signed anything, maybe didn't know about the pregnancy, Texas’s solution to this was created in 1997, and it is called the Paternity Registry. And the expectation of the State is that if you have an encounter with someone and you think that may have resulted in a pregnancy, you as the father or the potential father are expected to go register with the Paternity Registry with your information, the potential mother's information, and so that way you can get notified if someone tries to terminate your rights, adopt your child, or something like that. Most people don't know it exists. And an adoption or a termination could go forward with no notice to the father if it was just like a casual encounter where they're not living together, there wasn't really a relationship, and they later on find out that they have a kid that was adopted fifteen years prior.

Rob Rosenthal:

Wow, I had no idea. So where would they find this registry? I'm assuming online somewhere?

Jillian French:

Yes, you can. I think that a simple Google search of Texas Paternity Registry will get you there. It's with the state website; it's a state-run registry, so it's not just county by county. It's a Texas Paternity Registry; not every state's going to have this, so if they have an encounter somewhere else and then they come back to Texas, it's not going to work. It's only for things that happen here or people that live here.

Rob Rosenthal:

Anything else you think unmarried parents should be aware of about paternity law in Texas?

Jillian French:

I think that, again, the number one piece of advice that I give if I have a male client come in who is not a 100% certain that the child is theirs, is to get that paternity test done early. Because we do have certain statute of limitations in place where if you have a child and you don't question it, and the child turns four, after that point your ability to challenge paternity is incredibly limited and almost impossible to challenge—even if a later genetic test reveals that you're not the father. So that four-year mark is that magic number. If there's any question at all, go get a DNA test, because even if the birth certificate was signed, there may be something that can be done if you could do it early enough. Obviously, if there's any question at the time of the birth, don't sign the birth certificate, go get a paternity test, and go from there.

Rob Rosenthal:

Wow, lots of great information as always, Jillian. Thank you for answering our questions today. I appreciate it.

Jillian French:

Thank you for having me.

Rob Rosenthal:

That's going to do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guest has been Austin attorney Jillian French with the Vaught Law Firm. Remember, if you want to ask questions about your specific situation, go to askthelawyers.com, click on the button at the top of the page that says “Ask a Lawyer”, and you can do all your asking right there. Thanks for watching, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers™.

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