Child custody laws for married parents in Texas are clear and concise. However, for unmarried parents, the issue of child custody becomes a bit more difficult.
Here, we’ll help you understand what your parental rights are, whether you’re the father or the mother.
Unmarried Fathers’ Rights in Texas
Most often, it’s the father who must fight for child custody, so we’ll start there.
If the parents of a child are not married at conception or the time of birth, the father has no legal parental rights or obligations. If he wants to have a relationship with the child, he must first establish paternity. Only then can the father seek out custody of any kind.
The easiest way to establish paternity is for the mother to sign an affidavit acknowledging that he’s the father. If the mother does not agree to this, the father can pay for a paternity test. A paternity test requires swabbing cells from the inside of the child’s cheek, as well as the father’s.
The DNA from the cells will then be compared in a special lab by a forensic expert, who will determine if the child and father have enough matching DNA to have a biological connection. If so, the father’s paternity will be proven.
If the mother is entirely uncooperative, even refusing to allow the child’s cheek to be swabbed for a paternity test, the father needs to contact a family law attorney who can intervene and fight on his behalf.
Once the father has established paternity, he has the right to seek custody (“conservatorship”) of the child. There are three types of conservatorship in Texas:
- “Conservatorship” rights – This determines who gets to make decisions on the child’s behalf, such as education, religious teachings, extracurricular activities, and health and insurance decisions.
- Joint Managing Conservator – This is when both parents have the same legal authority to make decisions.
- Sole Managing Conservator – This is when one parent has exclusive conservatorship rights.
- Possessory Conservator – This is when a parent has visitation with the child, but no legal authority to make decisions.
Without established paternity and a court order confirming the father’s custody rights, the mother of the child can deny visitation or even move the child out of state without the father’s permission.
That’s why it’s critical that unmarried fathers in Texas seek legal advice from a qualified child custody attorney.
Unmarried Mothers’ Rights in Texas
Unmarried mothers’ rights in Texas are a bit different. Often, the mother finds herself fighting the father for child support because the father denies having a biological relationship to the child.
If a mother wants to collect child support or she simply wants the child to know their father and have a relationship with them, the mother can seek a court-ordered paternity test.
With the help of an attorney, the mother can petition the courts to order a paternity test. The Attorney General of Texas can also help with this petition. Alleged fathers, especially those who deny paternity, are not always easy to find when it comes time to enforce the paternity test. That’s why, even with the Attorney General’s help, it’s critical that mothers have an attorney on their side.
If the paternity test results are positive, the mother can seek child support from the father.
Unmarried parents in Texas often have many worries and questions about child support, paternity, and child custody. Whether you’re the mother or the father, you do have rights. While every case is different and results can never be predicted with 100-percent certainty, your odds are always better when you’re represented by a family law attorney.
We can help you navigate the system, make sure you understand each step and option, speak and petition the courts on your behalf, and fight for your rights if things get difficult.
Visit our child custody page for more information on your child custody rights.
Contact us to get started and protect your rights today.