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Establishing Paternity in Texas
by Charla Bradshaw

Filing a paternity claim in Texas between a man and a child is not as easy as one would think. Texas even has laws for disestablishing paternity under certain circumstances.  An important component to establishing (or disestablishing) paternity is that vital deadlines and time frames apply. To help with establishing parent-child relationships between fathers and their children, and to prevent certain termination of fathers’ rights to a child, a number of states, including Texas, have established a paternity registry, which I will discuss in this article.

The primary ways a man is established as the parent of a child are as follows:

  1. If a man is married to the mother of the child and the child is born during the marriage, then the man is presumedto be the child’s father. This presumption first applies even if the child is not his biological child, unless this presumption can be disproved.
  2. If a man is married to the mother of the child and the child is born before the 301st day after the date the marriage is terminated, then the man is presumedto be the child’s father.  Again, this presumption first applies even if the child is not his biological child, unless this presumption can be disproved.
  3. If a man and the mother signs an “Acknowledgement of Paternity” that meets the standards in the law.
  4. There is a court order that states that the man is the child’s father.
  5. The man adopts the child.

It should be noted that disproving the presumptions above can be complex and a family law attorney should be consulted.

Any man or mother who wants to establish a parent-child relationship between a man and a child should not wait to take action as there are vital time frames and deadlines. A paternity case can even be filed before the birth of the child.

Any man who has been established as the child’s parent who later believes he is not the parent should not wait to take action because again, vital deadlines and time frames apply. And, in certain limited circumstances, a mother may be able to challenge an established father-child relationship. Texas law now provides in certain circumstances a way for a man who either signed an acknowledgment of paternity or is adjudicated to be the father of a child without genetic testing to have the parent-child relationship terminated. In any of these circumstances, a family law attorney should be consulted right away.

In Texas we have a registry of paternity in our bureau of vital statistics. It is essential that any man who desires to be notified of a proceeding for the adoption of or the termination of parental rights regarding a child that he may have fathered register with the paternity registry. A man may register before the birth of a child but no later than the 31st day after the date of the birth of a child. If a man registers he is responsible for promptly notifying the registry of any change in his information. The paternity registration form can be located at http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/vs/patreg/.

A man is entitled to notice of a lawsuit for adoption or to terminate his parental rights regardless of whether he registers with the paternity registry, if a father-child relationship has been established in the law, or if the man files a lawsuit to establish his paternity before the court has terminated his parental rights. But, if a man is not entitled to notice by one of these two means, then his parental rights may be terminated without notice to him if he has not timely registered.

Information contained in the paternity registry is confidential and may be released on request only to the following:

  • a court or a person designated by the court
  • the mother of the child who is the subject of the registration
  • an agency authorized by another law to receive the information
  • licensed child-placing agency
  • a support enforcement agency
  • a party, or the party’s attorney, to a proceeding for adoption, paternity or to terminate parental rights and the registry of paternity in another state.

Any man who has registered with the paternity registry may withdraw his registration.  Registering with the paternity registry does establish legal paternity of a child and does not begin the process of establishing legal paternity of a child. Further, the information contained in the registry may be used in a legal proceeding to establish paternity of a child.

Time is of the essence when it comes to establishing a parent-child relationship. Anyone desiring to establish a parent-child relationship should consult a family law attorney as soon as possible.