An unmarried father has rights and obligations to his children. However, unmarried fathers may face an uphill battle. They may need to go to court to establish paternity and visitation rights for unmarried fathers. Or, perhaps you’ve recently received a demand for child support for unmarried parents and would like to secure visitation rights too. The Larson Law Office can help you navigate these situations.
Unmarried Father’s Automatic Rights
Unmarried fathers don’t have automatic parental rights in Texas, even if they sign the child’s birth certificate. An unmarried father’s rights to custody and visitation are conditioned on establishing legal paternity. Once you become a legal parent, you obtain rights and responsibilities, including visitation rights, custody rights, and the financial obligation to support your child.
Establishing Paternity for Visitation
An unmarried father’s visitation rights in Texas begin with establishing paternity. An unmarried father can establish paternity in two primary ways:
- Signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity, or
- A paternity case in court.
The easiest way to establish paternity is through an Acknowledgment of Paternity. Both parents must sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity. If either parent refuses to sign, you must bring a paternity case to court. If your child’s mother refuses to allow visitation, you’ll need to bring a court case establishing visitation rights for unmarried fathers.
Court Proceeding for Paternity, Visitation, and Child Support
Although having an Acknowledgement of Paternity is helpful, it is often still necessary to file a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) in court to resolve other issues pertaining to paternity. You’ll also have to file a SAPCR case in court for visitation and child support.
A SAPCR is a court case that asks a judge to decide on issues affecting a child, such as paternity, custody (conservatorship), visitation, and child support.
First, the court will determine paternity. The court typically orders the parties and the child to undergo DNA testing. Once paternity is established, the unmarried father has legal rights to the child and can work on establishing visitation for unmarried fathers.
Conservatorship and Possession
In Texas, a SAPCR also establishes custody or conservatorship. This aspect of the proceeding determines how the parents make major decisions affecting the child and how much time the child spends with each parent.
Generally, the court makes both parents joint managing conservators unless there is abuse. This means that both parents cooperate in making significant decisions affecting the child’s life.
The court also assigns physical custody and visitation. Generally, the court uses a standard possession order. This designates the child’s primary residence with one parent, and the other parent has the child on the first, third, and fifth weekends and every Thursday night. Deviations can be made if it’s in the child’s best interest.
As a legal parent, you have obligations to your child. This includes the duty to pay child support for unmarried fathers.
In most but not all cases, the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent who has primary custody of the child. You can estimate child support payments with the Attorney General’s child support calculator. You should speak with a family attorney to help you consider your expenses when calculating child support payments.
I Received Child Support Papers from the Texas Attorney General. What Happens Now?
A custodial parent can easily apply for child support through the Office of the Attorney General in Texas. If the custodial parent applies for public assistance for the child, the Attorney General will start a child support case automatically.
Once a parent files for child support, someone at the Attorney General’s Office will contact the other parent to inform them of the need to attend a scheduled meeting. The Attorney General’s representative will try to get the parties to agree to paternity. They’ll also try to negotiate custody, visitation, and child support.
If the parties don’t agree, they’ll send the case to court. In court, the Attorney General’s representative technically represents the state. However, it’s in the state’s interest to ensure that someone pays child support, especially if the child is on public assistance.
Unmarried fathers often feel pressured throughout this process because of the Attorney General’s involvement. You don’t have to agree to pay child support that you can’t afford just because you think it’s the only way to see your child. You are entitled to representation at the first meeting with the Attorney General’s representative and in court.
A family lawyer at these meetings can fight to ensure that you have a visitation schedule and child support obligations that meet your and your child’s needs.
Contact an Experienced Family Lawyer Today
Establishing visitation rights for unmarried fathers in Texas requires many steps involving the court or even the Attorney General’s office. These pressures can feel overwhelming and may result in you agreeing to something that doesn’t suit your interests or abilities. The Larson Law Office can help.
We’ll be your zealous advocate to ensure that any plan involving your child’s paternity, custody, visitation, and child support serves your and your child’s best interests. Contact us today.