If you have a child and are not married, it is important to understand Texas child custody laws for unmarried parents. Unmarried mothers and fathers in Texas generally have the same rights as married parents.
However, because unmarried fathers have to take extra steps to establish their paternity, securing those rights can be a little complicated.
An experienced Waco, Texas child custody attorney can help protect your rights.
Rights of Parents
Most parents have the following rights:
- To have frequent contact with your child and spend time with them;
- To make day-to-day decisions for the child when they are in your custody;
- To have input and receive information about the education, health, and welfare of your child;
- To access health and education records and consult with your child’s doctors and teachers;
- To go to your child’s school activities;
- To be designated as an emergency contact for your child;
- To consent to medical treatment for your child in an emergency; and
- To manage your child’s finances.
Parents also have a duty to provide financial support for their children.
While the law automatically recognizes mothers’ rights when a child is born, fathers may have to do more to establish their rights.
The law presumes that a man is the child’s father when:
- The man is married to the mother when the child is born;
- The child is born 300 days or less after the man’s marriage to the mother ends;
- The man marries the mother after the child is born and asserts his paternity by filing a record with vital statistics, agreeing to be named as the father on the birth certificate, or promising in a record to support the child; or
- The man continuously lives with the mother and child for the first two years of the child’s life and represents to other people that the child is his.
If none of the presumptions apply, a man who wants to establish paternity will have to take additional steps to protect his rights.
Unmarried Mothers Rights in Texas
An unmarried mother may have more rights than a married mother if no man has established his legal paternity. With no legal father, a mother can decide if, when, and how often the child visits the father or his family members.
She has the right to make all decisions for the child. She can even move the child to another state without notifying the father.
A mother can also choose to pursue a paternity suit. This may be a good idea if you want to receive support from the father or if you want your child to have a relationship with the father.
Unmarried Fathers Rights in Texas
There is only one situation where the law presumes that an unmarried man is a child’s father. He must have lived with the mother and child continuously for the first two years of the child’s life and represented to others that the child is his.
For all other unmarried fathers, there are only two ways to establish paternity: an acknowledgment of paternity or an adjudication of paternity. Being listed on the child’s birth certificate is not enough.
Acknowledgment of Paternity
An acknowledgment of paternity is a form you can fill out stating that you are the father of a child. Both the mother and the father must sign the form.
- Either name the child’s presumed father or state that the child does not have one,
- State that there is no other acknowledged or adjudicated father, and
- State the results of any genetic testing.
If there is a presumed father, the presumed father must also sign a denial of paternity. This might happen where the mother is married to someone who is not the biological father of the child.
If you submit an acknowledgment of paternity, the law will recognize you as the child’s father. After that, you can challenge the acknowledgment only in limited circumstances.
Adjudication of Paternity
If the mother is unwilling to sign an acknowledgment of paternity, you can establish that you are the father by filing a paternity suit. Both the father and the mother have the ability to initiate a paternity suit.
There is no statute of limitations on paternity suits in Texas unless the child has a presumed father. That means that you can bring a suit at any time—even if the child is an adult.
If there is a presumed father, you have only four years to bring a paternity suit unless:
- The presumed father was misled about the child’s paternity, or
- The mother did not live with the presumed father or engage in sexual relations with him during the time the child was conceived.
If paternity is disputed, the court will order a blood test. If the alleged father in the paternity suit is at least 99% likely to be the biological father, the court will make a finding adjudicating him as the child’s father. Then the court will move forward and make decisions about custody and visitation.
Custody and Visitation for Unmarried Parents
Child custody laws in Texas for unmarried parents work the same as they do for married parents.
After paternity is established either through a presumption of paternity, an acknowledgment of paternity, or an adjudication of paternity, the court will determine custody, visitation, and child support.
A mother and father can reach agreements about these things, but the court must approve any settlement. The court will approve your settlement as long as it is in the children’s best interests.
Under Texas law, the court will designate either one or both parents as conservators of the child. In most cases, the court will appoint both parents as joint conservators, meaning that both will have the right to participate in making important decisions for the child.
One parent will be designated as the primary conservator. This parent has the right to determine the child’s primary residence and to receive child support from the other parent.
The other parent will have rights of possession, often called visitation rights. In Texas, visitation is usually based on the Standard Possession Order, which outlines the default visitation schedule for divorced and unmarried parents.
Talk to a Divorce Attorney About Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents in Texas
An experienced Waco, TX child custody attorney from Simer & Tetens can help you protect your parental rights. If you are an unmarried parent, it is important that you have someone to represent your interests and help you navigate the special rules for establishing paternity.
We will advocate for you and help you preserve your right to have a relationship with your child. Call us at (254) 412-2300 to schedule a free consultation or message us online.