When a child is born in Texas to unmarried parents, the biological mother alone receives all the rights and responsibilities of parenting the child. The child’s father will have NO rights to the child unless he takes specific legal actions to secure them. However, if he seeks legal recognition through the proper channels, he can seek custody, visitation, and child support just like the mother can.

The unmarried mother can also petition the court to legally recognize the man as the child’s father, and usually does so in pursuit of child support.

Establishing Paternity in Texas

When a married couple divorces, the husband is presumed to be the father for any children conceived during their marriage. However, for an unmarried father, the first step to obtaining legal rights to a child is by establishing paternity in the court. Establishing paternity is a two-sided coin. The father will gain certain parental rights, but he may  also be ordered to pay support. When a mother moves to establish paternity with the courts to begin receiving child support payments, she must be willing to cede some parenting time to the father, and possibly share legal decision making rights, as well.

The “easy way” to establish paternity in Texas is the “Acknowledgement of Paternity.” If both parents accept the identity of the child’s natural father, they can voluntarily sign a form acknowledging paternity. This is typically signed at the hospital at the time of birth, but there is no mandated time frame in which you can voluntarily acknowledge paternity.

If either party expresses doubt of paternity, or is unwilling to acknowledge it, paternity must be established involuntarily. A motion to involuntarily establish paternity can be brought to court by the father, the mother, or an agency of the state. Paternity is determined by a DNA mouth swab test. These simple tests are non-invasive and yield extremely accurate results. If the father does not appear in court, a judge may issue a default order naming him the legal father without a DNA test.

Once paternity is established, the child’s birth certificate will be updated, and the father can ask the court to award custody and visitation.

Child custody Issues for Unmarried Parents

Texas child custody is divided into two categories: “conservatorship” and “possession and access.” Conservatorship refers to the ability to make legal decisions for your child, including determinations about medical care, education, religious practice, and other major decisions. Conservatorship can be the responsibility of only one parent (sole managing conservatorship) or a shared responsibility (joint managing conservatorship). Possession and access describes physical custody of the child and how much time the child spends with each parent.

By law, Texas family courts are not allowed to show preference to the mother in custody decisions. Instead, the judge will decide custody issues based on what is in the best interest of the child. The judge will determine this by considering many different factors, including:

  • Income and financial stability of each parent;
  • Quality of living space and environment provided for the child;
  • Physical and mental health of each parent;
  • The child’s relationship with each parent; and
  • Any history of domestic violence, neglect, or drug use.

Child Custody Attorney in Dallas, TX

 If you have recently split from your child’s other parent, do not leave custody and financial arrangements up in the air. Experienced child custody and child support lawyer Sharita Blacknall will help protect your parental rights and interests. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.


See related blog posts:

What Does “The Best Interest of the Child” Mean in Texas?

Do I Have to Change My Texas Parenting Plan if I am Moving Temporarily?