Why is it Important?
When unmarried parents have a child it is important to adjudicate the paternity of the child. Often, the parent-child relationship must be established by the court. When a child is born to an unmarried couple, under Texas law, the child has no legal father. It is not a small distinction-- there is a difference between a legal father and a biological father.
How do I establish paternity of my child?
The father of the child can voluntarily sign a legal document known as an acknowledgment of paternity. This document tells the world that he is acknowledging paternity at the time of child's birth.
What does it mean to "acknowledge paternity"?
Paternity means that the man is the father of the child. This can be accomplished by having both parents sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity and then filing the document with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Once this happens, the biological father now becomes the legal father. Once paternity has been affirmatively established, the father's name is placed on the birth certificate. Once a man is acknowledged to be the child's father, a court can order him to pay child support, provide healthcare for the child and grant him the right to custody, visitation or possession of his child.
Is there an advantage to acknowledging paternity at the time of the babies birth?
Yes, there are a couple of good reasons. The first obvious answer is that this is the most convenient time to resolve this issue. Everything needed for the process can be found together in one place. All necessary forms are available at Texas hospitals where the child is born. It is quite often the case that the father is with the mother at the hospital at the time the baby is born- meaning all parties are there together to complete all necessary paperwork to wrap up this issue.
There are other benefits as well: the parents don't have to worry about mailing the forms to the proper agency as the hospital will assure that everything is sent to the right place--to the Bureau of Vital Statistics where it is filed. Additionally, the father's name will be added to the birth certificate at no additional cost to the parents. And let's look at what is really important- this is in the best interest of the baby. The earlier in the baby's life paternity is established, the more secure his or her future will be. Older children often struggle with issues of doubt and internal strife when the paternity of their father has not been affirmatively established, not to mention, from a monetary standpoint, there may not be an additional parent identified who is responsible to help out with the financial needs of the child as he or she gets older.
Will signing the Acknowledgment of Paternity make a person the legal father?
Yes, when both parents, the mother and father, sign the acknowledgment of paternity, the biological father becomes the legal father once the acknowledgement of paternity is filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
What if the mother is married to someone else or the baby was born within 300 days of the date of her divorce?
If the mother is married to someone other than the biological father or the baby is born within 300 days of her divorce from a man who is not the biological father, the husband must sign a Denial of Paternity. The biological father cannot become the legal father by signing an acknowledgement of paternity until the husband signs the Denial of Paternity, which is including on the acknowledgment of paternity forms. If the husband refuses to sign the denial, either biological parent can open a case with an attorney to petition the court to establish the true paternity of the child.
Can a parent change their mind after they have signed an acknowledgment of paternity? What if one or both parents change their mind after they have signed the Acknowledgment of Paternity and it has been filed at BVS?
Anyone who signed the Acknowledgment of Paternity may file a petition to rescind it. To seek to rescind it, the petition must be filed in court within the first 60 days after the acknowledgment of paternity has been filed with Bureau of Vital Statistics or before the court conducts its first hearing, whichever occurs first.
Where do I get an acknowledgment of paternity form?
These forms are available at the hospital, at the Attorney General's Child Support Office, or at the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The forms are also available at the local birth registrar.
What if the father wants to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity but cannot make it to the hospital?
Life often gets in the way of our best made plans and something may happen that prevents the father from being at hospital at the time the child is born. This might prevent the parents from doing everything necessary to acknowledge paternity while the mother and baby are still at the hospital. If the parents know this may happen in advance, for example, the child's father is in the military or traveling away from home, the parents can sign and execute an acknowledgement of paternity prior to the birth of the baby. Or the forms may be completed after the child's birth. However, it is important to note that the father must take the acknowledgment of paternity to a Child Support Office, the local registry, or another approved/certified entity or agency to receive information regarding his rights and responsibilities. If not completed at the hospital, the acknowledgment of paternity, upon completion, must be mailed to:
Bureau of Vital Statistics
1100 W. 49th Street
Austin, TX 78756-3191
So what can be done if the father does not want to acknowledge paternity?
The mother of the child has options to affirmatively establish the paternity of the child. The mother should contact an attorney or the Attorney's General Office to open a child support case for her. It is important that the mother provide important information to her attorney or the OAG, providing as much information as possible about the purported father of the child. Information about the father, such as a Social Security number, place of employment, and an address, famly contacts and friends makes it easier to locate him.
Paternity can be established if the father signs an acknowledgment of paternity, is listed on the birth certificate and takes a DNA. Courts require all or a combination of those steps to be taken prior to adjudicating a father and establishing a parent child relationship. If the father refuses to acknowledge his child, the Court will order genetic testing and if the DNA test confirms paternity, he will be adjudicated the father, with all of the rights and duties of a father.
Establishing the Paternity of the Child, through the completion of an Acknowledgment of Paternity to establish legal fatherhood, does many things to help establish the legal rights of the child:
Courts must establish paternity before they can order a father to pay child support.
The father cannot demand enforcement of his right to visitation or possession of the child until paternity is established.
The father may be able to provide health insurance, or other benefits, for the child once paternity is established.
The child may be able to receive money through a government program. In many cases the child may be eligible for Social Security, veteran's benefits, health care, or other government benefits.
Knowing the health history of the child's father is another important factor. Children can be born with diseases or disorders inherited from their parents. Sometimes doctors can identify issues at the time of birth if a baby has any inherited diseases or disorders. But other times health problems appear later in a child's life. Either way, it helps the doctors to know how to treat a child if they know the family medical history of both the mother and the father.
So many issues of the child's life, emotional and physical, are well served by knowing and affirming the paternity of the child's father.
What if the father thinks that the child is his, but the mother refuses to sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity with him?
The father can consult a private attorney and open a case. Again, information is key and providing as much information as possible will assist your attorney in the investigation and resolution of this problem. Please provide as much information about the mother, such as a Social Security number, place of employment, and an address, --anything that makes it easier to locate her.
What if the father does not believe the child is his?
He can seek paternity testing. A court will look at the results of the paternity test and at other evidence that would link the father to the child.
Does paternity establishment affect custody and visitation?
Each parent has the duty to financially and emotionally support their child. Each parent has the right to visitation, except under exceptional circumstances. Child support and visitation will be ordered by a court. Both parents must obey the court order-a parent cannot refuse to pay child support because the other parent is refusing visitation, and vice versa.
Should parents establish paternity if they are getting along and the father is helping support the child?
Yes. Even if the father agrees to help support the child now, he may change his mind, become disabled, or even die. In most cases, unmarried parents can get benefits for their child only if they establish paternity for the child.