In Texas, if you are not married when your child is born, there is no legal father.  The biological dad is not legally the father until a court adjudicates him to be so.  (Prior to a court finding that he is the legal father, the unmarried biological father is referred to as the “alleged father.”)  The bio dad can (and should) sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form when the baby is born.  Many hospitals now have this form on site when a baby is born.

In order  for the biological father to obtain legal status as the father, someone must file a paternity suit.  Either parent can file a paternity suit, as can the Attorney General.  (Usually the Attorney General will file suit when Medicaid is involved because they want the government to be reimbursed for medical expenses.)  This is the case even if everyone admits he is the dad and there is no dispute.  This is also the case even if dad signed a valid Acknowledgment of Paternity.

The paternity suit serves several purposes.  First, it allows the Court to formally adjudicate the biological dad as the legal father.  If everyone admits he is the father or if he signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity, then the Court will adjudicate him to be the father.  If either side contests paternity, the Court will order a paternity test.    Other issues typically involved in a paternity suit are conservatorship (rights and duties), possession and access (the schedule for when each parent has the child), and child support.

Paternity

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Most fathers-to-be assume that being the biological father of the child automatically gives them legal status as the father.  Most fathers-to-be also assume that having their name on the birth certificate as the father makes them the legal father.  Neither of those assumptions is correct. In the state of Texas, you are not the legal father unless one of three things happens: (1) you are the presumed father; (2) you sign a valid acknowledgment of paternity, or (2) a court enters an order stating you are the father.

A man is a “presumed” father if he (a) was married to the mother when the child was born, (b) was married to the mother any time during the 300 days before the child was born, or (c) married the mother after the baby was born and voluntarily claimed paternity through the bureau of vital statistics, on the birth certificate or in a record promising to support the child as his own.  If you do not qualify as a presumed father and have not taken steps to obtain legal status as the father, you are known as the “alleged father.”  An alleged father is the genetic father or one who is claimed to be the genetic father of the child.

If you are not married and you find yourself becoming a father, you want to be sure both you and the mother sign an acknowledgment of paternity when the baby is born.  The hospital may have this form available for you to sign.  Be sure to keep a copy of the completed form for your records.  The form must be completed before a certified acknowledgment of paternity entity, and it must be properly submitted to the Bureau of Vital Statistics.  In other words, you cannot simply print a form off the internet, fill it out, and be legally considered the father.  If you and the mother properly complete an acknowledgment of paternity, you will have all the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent and will legally be considered the father.

If no acknowledgment of paternity was signed and you do not meet the criteria of a “presumed father,” the courts will have to make a finding that you are the dad.  This is known as “adjudicating paternity.”  If both parties agree in court that you are the dad, then the judge will enter a finding that you are the father.  If one party contests paternity, then the court will order genetic testing.  If the testing shows you are the father, then you will legally be adjudicated as the dad.

Paternity

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