When children are born, they immediately form a bond with their parents. This bond is important since parents provide their children with care, support, and guidance through the first many years of their lives and often into adulthood. Since the support of a child’s parents is so important to a child’s development, states like Texas have enacted legislation to help protect and encourage the parent-child relationship and hold parents responsible for the care and support of their child. Whenever issues arise regarding the parent-child relationship or the child’s care, those issues go to Texas family law court.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
We have always been exposed to the important role mothers play in their children’s lives. Mothers have traditionally been viewed as the primary caregiver of children, due in large part to the traditional “stay-at-home mom” role where the mother remains at home to care for the children while the father enters the workforce to financially support the family. While a mother’s role is still an important one, more modern court decisions are placing a larger emphasis on the role a father plays in a child’s life, and because this role is equally important, more courts are choosing joint custody decisions.
Studies have shown that fathers play a critical role in a child’s development including the child’s development of speech and language. Additionally, studies have suggested that children with involved and loving fathers do better academically and have an easier time with their social development. With this knowledge, courts attempt to keep both parents equally involved in the child’s life, usually through a joint custody decision or through ample visitation time by the non-custodial parent.
Establishing Paternity in Texas
One of the first steps in dealing with any type of child custody or child support case in the family court system is to establish the child’s paternity. In legal terms, “paternity” is defined as “fatherhood,” and “establishing paternity” means legally determining the child’s legal father so that individual can take on the responsibilities, rights, and obligations of being that child’s parent. If parents are married when their child is born, establishing paternity is automatic – the legal system assumes the child’s mother’s husband is the legal and biological father of the child.
When a couple is married, they do not need to take any additional steps to establish their child’s paternity. However, when a couple and is not married, they need to take additional steps to establish paternity. In the state of Texas, there are two main methods of establishing paternity – paternity can be voluntarily established using an “Acknowledgement of Paternity” form, or it can be involuntarily established by taking the matter to the family court system. Both methods legally establish paternity, but one method is easier to complete than the other.
When the child’s mother and father agree on who the child’s father is, they can opt to use the voluntary method to establish paternity. Both parents need to complete and sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the birthing center or hospital when the child is born. While it is ideal to complete this process at the medical facility, parents can also obtain and complete these forms later by visiting the local birth registrar, the Child Support Office, or the Vital Statistics Unit. Once the form has been completed and signed, it needs to be filed with the Vital Statistics Unit.
When the parents do not agree on who the child’s father is, they have the option to establish paternity through a court proceeding where a judge issues an “order adjudicating parentage.” This method is considered involuntary since one party is usually disputing the child’s paternity, and the court’s assistance is needed to make a paternity determination. The child’s mother, the presumed father, the child himself or herself, or an agent of the state (if the child is receiving public assistance) can move to file a “Petition to Adjudicate Parentage.”
When the alleged father receives notice of the hearing and chooses not to appear in court, the judge can issue a “default order” that names the alleged father as the child’s legal father. If the alleged father does appear in court and the mother and alleged father come to an agreement regarding the child’s paternity, the judge issues an immediate order of adjudicating parentage. If either party is disputing the child’s paternity, the judge has the option to order DNA or genetic testing to determine who the child’s biological father is – all parties’ cheeks are swabbed, and the samples are sent for analysis.
Once the results of the DNA or genetic testing are received, the court makes its final paternity decision based on these results. If the testing finds the alleged father is in fact the child’s biological father, the court issues an order of adjudicating parentage, and the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate. Once paternity has been established, the court can move to make other important decisions, such as child custody, visitation, and child support.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation in Texas
Like most other states in the U.S., the state of Texas follows the “best interests of the child” standard when it comes to making child custody and other determinations regarding a child. This means that regardless of either parent’s wishes, the court is guided to make decisions that best support children’s wellbeing and help protect them and ensure they get the support they need. Since keeping both parents involved in a child’s life is considered important, judges always begin their evaluation of a case with the hopes of developing a workable joint Texas child custody agreement.
In cases where joint custody is not an option, the judge moves to name a primary custodian, or the parent who will have the child within his or her care most of the time. When choosing a primary custodian, mothers and fathers are evaluated equally and not chosen based on gender alone. It is possible, depending on the situation, for a father to be named a child’s primary custodian and for a mother to be named the non-custodial parent and be granted visitation rights. In these cases, the father would also move for the judge to make a child support decision.
How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help
The family court system can be difficult to navigate without the assistance of a knowledgeable family lawyer. Additionally, fathers who are facing paternity, custody, or child support issues should seek the legal assistance of a father’s rights lawyer who can ensure the father’s rights are being recognized and upheld in court. Professional attorneys can effectively and accurately navigate their client’s case and help set fathers up for the best possible outcome based on the father’s unique situation. Often, fathers who hire an experienced lawyer fare better in court.