Answering questions of paternity under Texas law

There is no disputing the fact that issues of child paternity can be quite important, particularly when parental rights or child support are involved. Indeed, regardless of whether a potential father is seeking visitation rights or a mother is attempting to obtain additional financial support, the need to resolve questions of paternity may be pivotal. In Texas, paternity is typically established three different ways: By presumption, by acknowledgment or by adjudication (court order).

The presumption of paternity in Texas

The Texas Family Code outlines the specific situations in which the presumption of paternity may exist. For instance, a man may be presumed to be a child's father if:

  • He and the child's mother are married, and the child is born during the marriage
  • He and the child's mother were married, and the child is born within 300 days of their divorce
  • He marries the child's mother after the child's birth and voluntarily asserts paternity, although his assertion typically needs to be properly recorded, such as being named as the father on the child's birth certificate or in a record filed with the bureau of vital statistics
  • He continuously resides in the same household as the child during the first two years of the child's life, and he represents to others that the child is his

It is important to note, however, that just because a man is presumed to be child's father it does not guarantee he is the child's biological parent. In fact, the presumption of paternity can be rebutted through adjudication and genetic testing, or if the presumed father files a denial of paternity in combination with an acknowledgment of paternity by another person.

Even so, once paternity has been established by presumption, it typically cannot be challenged by adjudication after the child reaches the age of four. Although, this time limitation may be ignored if the presumed father and the child's mother did not have sexual relations or live together when the child was conceived or if the presumed father only believes he is the child's father as a result of misrepresentations.

Other ways of establishing paternity in Texas

If a child's parents are unwed, the presumptions of paternity will often not apply. In these situations, a father and mother can establish paternity by signing a document of voluntarily acknowledgement. However, once a father signs an acknowledgment of paternity, he can typically only dispute paternity on the basis of duress, fraud or material mistake of fact - although he does have an initial 60-day period in which he can seek a rescission after executing the acknowledgment.

If the parents refuse to acknowledge paternity, a court may be asked to step in and adjudicate the matter. Often times, this process will involve the use of genetic testing. If the child in question does not already have a presumed, acknowledged or adjudicated father, there is generally no time limit for seeking the establishment of paternity through adjudication. However, if paternity has been already ascertained in some way, a time limitation may exist.

As this article illustrates, legal issues related to paternity can often be complicated in Texas. Consequently, if you are currently embroiled in a paternity suit, it is advisable to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney.