This article explains the legal aspects of paternity and how paternity can be established in Texas. If you have specific questions about your own paternity case, or about establishing paternity, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
"Paternity" means fatherhood. In the legal sense, "establishing paternity" refers to the determination of a child's "legal" father and the related rights and obligations of the father to the child. Every child has a biological father, but not every child has a "legal" father. When "paternity has been established" it means that someone has been named the legal father of a child.
Paternity is automatically established if the parents are married to each other when the child is born. The husband is the legal father and his name will be on the child's birth certificate. In Texas, if the parents of a child are not married to each other when the child is born, the child has no legal father until paternity is established. Once paternity is established, the father's name will be placed on the child's birth certificate and the father will gain certain rights to the child.
In Texas, paternity can be established either "voluntarily" by signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity form or "involuntarily" through a court order.
When the mother and father agree that the father is in fact the biological father, paternity can be established voluntarily. This requires both the father and mother to sign what's called an "Acknowledgment of Paternity." This is often done at the hospital when the child is born. The form can also be signed later and mailed to the Vital Statistics Unit in Austin. However, if the Acknowledgment of Paternity is signed after the hospital has already mailed the birth certificate, then a fee is charged for changing the birth certificate to include the father's name. The Acknowledgment of Paternity form can be obtained at the hospital, the local birth registrar, the Attorney General's Child Support Office, and the Vital Statistics Unit. Once the Acknowledgment of Paternity is properly filed with the Vital Statistics Unit, the father is the legal father of the child and his name will be added to the child's birth certificate.
Involuntary establishment of paternity is done through a court proceeding where the court issues an "order adjudicating parentage." This method is called "involuntary" because someone disputes paternity, which is why it becomes a court issue. The mother, the father, the child, or the state if the child is receiving public assistance, can begin the court process by filing a "Petition to Adjudicate Parentage" in the county where the child lives. If after receiving appropriate notice of the court proceeding, the father doesn't appear in court, the judge can enter a "default order" in his absence, declaring him the legal father. If the father appears in court and the mother and father agree that the father is the biological father, the court will immediately enter an order adjudicating parentage.
If either the mother or the father denies or is uncertain of paternity, the court may order DNA testing. Today, a DNA test requires that the child, mother, and father have the inside of their cheeks swabbed. The DNA is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. If, after DNA testing, the court determines that the father is in fact the biological father, the court will issue an order adjudicating parentage, making the father the legal father and his name will be added to the child's birth certificate. Within the proceeding to determine paternity, the court can also issue orders of custody, visitation, and child support.
In a court proceeding to establish paternity, both the mother and father have the right to be represented by an attorney at any stage of the process.
Establishing paternity means more than just having a father named on the child's birth certificate. There are benefits for the child, the mother, and the father when paternity is established.
Establishing paternity helps children:
Establishing paternity helps mothers to:
Establishing paternity helps fathers to:
For the full text of the statutes regarding establishment of paternity by Acknowledgment of Paternity, see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § § 160.302 to 160.306.
For the full text of the statutes regarding involuntary establishment of paternity, see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § § 160.601 to 160.637.
The website of the Texas Attorney General's Office has information about voluntarily establishing paternity and also offers assistance to both fathers and mothers seeking to establish paternity through a court proceeding.
Visit the Texas Vital Statistics Unit website for answers to frequently asked questions and instructions about amending birth certificates.