Texas custody laws for unmarried parents aren’t as simple as they are for married parents.
If you are unmarried in Texas and seeking child custody, the process can be difficult.
This is because unmarried parents must take extra steps to prove a child’s paternity.
Who Has Legal Custody of a Child When Parents Are Unmarried in Texas?
Laws on child custody in Texas for not married parents dictate that the mother has automatic custody of the child, both legally and physically, unless the father has legally established his paternity. Even if the father’s name is on the child’s birth certificate, they have very limited rights over the child.
Unmarried Mothers’ Rights in Texas
In certain situations, an unmarried mother may have more rights than a married mother under child custody laws in Texas for unmarried parents. If the father’s paternity is not legally established, the mother can decide if and when their child visits the father.
Unmarried mothers also have the right to make all decisions for the child. They may even move to another state with their child without notifying the father.
However, if the father has not received legal recognition, then the mother cannot collect child support from him.
Unmarried Fathers’ Rights in Texas
Unmarried fathers’ rights in Texas depend on whether they have received legal recognition as the child’s father. If they have, then their rights are the same as those of a married father. If not, their parental rights will not be recognized.
To have any rights over their child, an unmarried father must first legally establish his paternity. This requires more than having his name on the birth certificate. A person can establish paternity either through an acknowledgment of paternity or a paternity suit.
Child custody laws in Texas for unmarried couples require that an acknowledgment of paternity form:
- Be signed by both the mother and the father;
- Either name the child’s presumed father or state that there is no presumed father;
- State that there isn’t another adjudicated or acknowledged father; and
- Include the results of any genetic testing.
If there is a presumed father of the child, they must sign a denial of paternity. This might happen in cases where the mother’s husband is not the biological father.
If either parent refuses to sign the acknowledgment of paternity, then the other parent can establish paternity by filing a paternity suit. If the parties dispute paternity, the court may order genetic testing to resolve the dispute.
Statute of Limitations
If there is a presumed father, then anyone seeking to challenge his paternity must do so within four years of the child’s birth unless:
- The presumed father was led to believe the child was his; or
- The mother did not engage in sexual activity or live with the presumed father at the time of the child’s conception.
If there is no presumed father, then there is no time limit on when an unmarried father can file a paternity suit in Texas. In fact, they can seek to establish paternity even if the child is an adult.
Conservatorship for Unmarried Parents
Once a father establishes paternity, he may seek conservatorship of the child on the same terms as any married father. A court may name him a joint managing conservator, the sole managing conservator, or a possessory conservator.
Joint managing conservatorship is when both parents have equal legal authority over decisions regarding the child. This includes decisions regarding education, activities, religious teachings, and medical treatment.
Sole managing conservatorship is when one parent has exclusive custody of the child, including complete legal authority. Under this type of conservatorship, the other parent usually has possessory conservatorship, which means they have visitation rights but no authority to make decisions regarding the child. In some cases, supervised possession may be necessary to protect the child.
Contact an Experienced Child Custody Attorney in Texas
If you have any questions about child custody laws in Texas for unmarried parents or are in the middle of a custody dispute, contact the Larson Law Office today. We understand that all parents want what is best for their child and how important it is to set them up for success. For a free consultation, please give us a call at 713-221-9088.