Establishing paternity of my child?Recently on our legal forum a user asked, "I have a girlfriend who just had a baby. I am trying to figure out what rights I have as a parent. Do I need to do something to establish paternity? Can I see my baby? I live in the State of Texas."
Rights of unmarried fathers
In the State of Texas if you and your girlfriend are not married you may be the biological father of the child, but you are not the legal parent until you have established paternity. Only then can you ensure you have the legal right to see your child and make medical decisions for your child.
Establishing paternity of a child outside of marriage
The good news is you have several legal means to establish to create a legal relationship with your child.
- Voluntary paternity can be established through a voluntary agreement.
To create a voluntary agreement you and your girlfriend can sign a legal document called an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). You and your girlfriend can sign an AOP at any time before or after birth by working with an AOP-certified entity. You do not have to go to court to voluntarily acknowledge that you are the child's biological father.
After the AOP is completed the child will have a legal relationship with you. You will not only be able to access their medical and school records, but they will also have access to your benefits such as SSA benefits, military benefits and any inheritance after you die.
Note: if you are not sure you are the father of the child or if you have doubts you may want to request a test prior to signing the Acknowledgement of Paternity form.
Additionally, signing the AOP may not establish visitation or custody of the child. You did not mention your current living arrangements, but you may want to talk to the court to establish an order for custody.
- Establishing paternity with a voluntary court order.
Another means to establish paternity is through an Agreed Paternity Order. An Agreed paternity order can be created if the parents agree on paternity. DNA testing is completed and all parties sign the agreement. At the time the agreement is signed you and your girlfriend will also work with the court to establish custody, visitation, child support and medical support.
- Establishing paternity with an involuntary court order.
Paternity can also be established through a court-ordered test. This can be ordered when the couple does not agree on who is the father. To initiate the process a petition can be filed in court asking that an alleged father be named the legal father. The court will order a DNA test. The court order can ensure that you are declared the legal father of the child.
If you and your girlfriend are not married you will need to take certain legal steps to protect your relationship with your child. You may want to be 100% certain you are the child's father by taking a DNA test. Keep in mind, you might also want to talk to a lawyer and legally establish legal physical custody of the child.