How long does a father have to establish paternity in Texas?

Establishing paternity after a child is born can be a complex and sensitive process, both in an emotional and legal sense. You may need to determine paternity due to doubts about the identity of the child’s biological father, for child support reasons, for knowledge of a child’s medical history, or to receive certain government benefits. On the other hand, you may simply need to establish paternity officially if you are an unmarried couple having a child – the process and correct order to do things can still be confusing here.

Establishing paternity is usually most emotionally taxing when the child’s mother and father are unable or unwilling to cooperate. Any situation potentially disputing your status as a biological parent can be challenging. You should always have an experienced family law attorney on your side to help you navigate the journey and protect your legal rights during the emotional process.

Here at The Love DuCote Law Firm LLC, our private attorney team has a wealth of knowledge and experience to lend to your paternity case. Our thorough knowledge of Texas law and custody and visitation precedents will be harnessed to give you the best chance of the legal result you desire.

For more information on how we can help with your paternity case, contact us today at 832-843-1691.

A dad caring for his baby and playing with them lovingly.
Is There A Time Limit To Filing A Paternity Suit To Become The Legal Father In Texas?

The way that obtaining a court order to establish paternity of a child in Texas works will be different, depending on whether the child already has a presumed father.

Usually, if the child does not already have a presumed father, a paternity suit may be raised at any time under Texas law.

There is only a time limit in certain situations, which we will cover in more detail in the following section. However, if you want to establish paternity through a court process, it is better to do this sooner rather than later, as potentially essential evidence does tend to become harder to access over time.

Establishing Paternity Within A Limited Timeframe

Establishing paternity only comes with a time limit if that child already has a presumed father, who is not you. This time limit is four years after the birth of that child, as specified on their birth certificate.

However, there are exceptions to this period of four years. These come into play if:

  • The presumed father and the child’s mother were not living together or did not have sexual relations within the window of likely conception.
  • The previously presumed father was being lied to and falsely believed himself the child’s father.

In these two situations, paternity can be established through a court case outside of the time limit of four years.

Who Is Able To File A Paternity Suit In Texas?

There are only certain parties who can raise a paternity suit. In Texas, these parties include:

  • The child’s mother.
  • The child’s legal father.
  • A man who is claiming to be the biological father.
  • The child, either by raising the paternity suit themselves or using a representative.
  • A government agency.

If you are any of the above parties and want to establish paternity through legal channels, our attorney team can help you. If you are the child’s mother and someone else is claiming to be the child’s biological father, we are also here to help.

Scientist in laboratory holding bottle

How Does A Court Establish Paternity In Texas?

Paternity is established in Texas courts through DNA testing. While no genetic testing is 100% infallible, the results are precise enough to accurately answer questions of parentage and determine the child’s legal father.

If the court orders DNA testing and this is refused by the person claiming to be the father of the child, the most likely result is that they will be denied any legal relationship with the child.

Who Pays For The DNA Test?

If the parents are unable to agree on a party to pay for the DNA tests, or if they are unwilling to split it evenly, the court will decide how the cost is divided.

The most likely decision will be that the parents split the cost between them.

What Happens Once Paternity Has Been Established?

Once the court-ordered DNA test shows who is the legal father, the next step will depend on the specifics of the case and what the desired result is.

For some parents, the next step is to get custody and visitation rights established in order to determine the parental rights for who the child lives with and how their time is divided between the two parents. If the parents cannot agree on this between themselves, it may once again be a matter that needs to go through the court.

In other situations, the next step may be to establish a responsibility for one parent to pay child support to the other parent. Child support will usually be paid to the parent who is granted primary custody, in order to provide financial support to compensate them for the additional cost of shouldering an unequal amount of the financial cost of raising the child.

Does Paternity Always Need To Be Settled Through A Legal Battle?

As we have already mentioned, establishing paternity is an emotionally and potentially legally complex process. It makes sense if you want to avoid the financial and emotional cost of a full-blown legal dispute.

There are ways to establish paternity without resorting to a lawsuit. However, these will require a degree of cooperation between the child’s mother and the child’s father. We will cover these in the following sections.

Voluntarily Establishing Paternity

It is possible to easily acknowledge paternity without conflict if the father of the child was not married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, and both the mother and father agree that they are the biological parents.

In this situation, both of the parents must simply sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form. This will cement the legal relationship without either party needing to go through the court. This is a normal process for couples who are not married by the time they have children, as this article explains further down the page.

You will be able to get the form from an Attorney General Child Support Office, a Texas Vital Statistics Unit, your local birth registrar, and usually most hospitals.

Couple disagreeing with lawyer sitting between them

Settling A Paternity Dispute Through Mediation

The previous solution, of course, only works when the mother and father of a child are able to come to an agreement on their own. As breakups and divorces can often be messy, this is not always possible.

If you are seeking to be recognized as the father of a child and have already entered into a legal battle, it may be easier to solve things through mediation. This is where each party meets – each with their attorney if they desire it – in order to negotiate a settlement outside of the court.

Once the two parties have agreed (if they are able to), an Acknowledgment of Paternity form may then be signed. If paternity is established in this way, not only will the cost of your attorney likely be lower, it may be beneficial to the child’s life, as the animosity generated by a heated legal battle can put an additional strain on family dynamics.

How Does Marriage Impact Designations Of Paternity?

The legal parent-child relationship for unmarried parents in Texas can be tricky. This is because an unmarried father is not the legal father until they have been through the voluntary process of signing the Acknowledgment of Paternity form, as mentioned above.

It is possible to sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity before the child’s birth. This is generally advisable, as then the father will be named on the child’s birth certificate as soon as the child is born. However, adding the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate after the child is born will incur an additional fee.

Additionally, when a child is born to a mother and father who are not married, that child will not receive full medical support, disability benefits, or social security until an official Acknowledgement of Paternity has been signed.

The way this law works also means that when a child is born to married parents, the mother’s husband automatically has their paternity acknowledged and is legally responsible for that child. This can cause complications if someone else appears claiming to be the alleged father.

Hire A Texas Paternity Lawyer Today

If you are unable to legally establish your paternity through the usual channels, wish to challenge the paternity of a child, or negotiate the custody or visitation rights you have for your children, our law firm can help you with your legal journey.

Determining paternity can be a complex and sensitive process. There are various reasons why you may need to establish paternity, such as for child support, to access medical history, or to receive certain government benefits. In some cases, the mother may not be willing or able to cooperate, which can make the process even more challenging.

It is important to have an experienced family law attorney on your side to help navigate the legal process and protect your rights. We have a team of private attorneys with extensive knowledge and experience in paternity cases in Texas. We will use our understanding of the state’s laws and custody and visitation precedents to give you the best chance of achieving the legal outcome you desire.

If you need assistance with a paternity case, don’t hesitate to contact us at 832-843-1691 for more information.