While unmarried parents who are together may never have child custody disputes, it is still important to understand your rights and duties under Texas law as an unmarried parent. If disputes arise, resolving child custody matters in Texas is not always as simple for unmarried parents as for married parents. Below, we discuss what to know about Texas custody laws for unmarried parents.
Who Gets Custody for Unmarried Parents in Texas?
When two people are married to each other and have a child in Texas, maternity and paternity are presumed, and both parents have established parental rights under the law. However, what happens if the parents are unmarried and have a child?
A mother’s parental rights are usually established when she gives birth. If unmarried, in most cases, the mother automatically gets both physical custody and legal custody over the child. The mother has sole conservatorship even if the unmarried parents are together.
Physical custody refers to the possession of a child or the right to decide where the child lives on a daily basis. Legal custody refers to making decisions on behalf of the child. For example, with legal custody, a parent may make decisions about a child’s medical care, education, and religion.
On the other hand, an unmarried father does not automatically have established parental rights under Texas law. Therefore, an unmarried father does not automatically get any custody rights over the child.
What Custody Rights Does an Unmarried Mother Have in Texas?
As mentioned above, an unmarried mother is usually automatically granted sole legal and physical custody of her child from birth in Texas. Until the father’s paternity is legally established, and a court order dictates otherwise, the mother has the exclusive right to make decisions for the child and determine where the child will live. A mother can even move to another state with the child without notifying the father.
However, without establishing paternity, a mother also has sole financial responsibility for the child. If needed, a mother cannot collect child support from the father if the father is not legally recognized.
What Custody Rights Does an Unmarried Father Have in Texas?
For unmarried parents in Texas, the biological father does not automatically get legal rights to the child when the child is born. In order to have any legal rights to their child, a father must establish his paternity.
Until paternity is established, the father has no legal right to physical custody, legal custody, or visitation. The father cannot intervene in a mother’s decision-making about the child. Generally, the father has no rights to the child at all. Simultaneously, the father is not responsible for child support.
However, once the father has been legally recognized, they have parental rights and are eligible for custody rights. The father can then petition the court for custody or visitation rights.
Does Signing a Child’s Birth Certificate Establish Paternity in Texas?
If unmarried, signing the birth certificate is not enough to prove you are the child’s father. Our Texas child custody lawyers discuss how to establish paternity below.
How to Establish Paternity in Texas
There are a few ways to establish paternity in Texas, including:
Presumption of Paternity
In most cases, a man is only presumed to be the father of a child if he is married or was recently married to the mother. For example, the law presumes that a man is a child’s father when any of the following circumstances exist:
- He is married to the child’s mother when the child is born.
- The child is born before the 301st day after the date the marriage between him and the child’s mother is terminated.
- He marries the child’s mother after the birth, asserts his paternity in a record with the vital statistics unit, is named the father on the child’s birth certificate, or promises in a record to support the child as his own.
- He must have continuously lived in the household with the child for the first two years of the child’s life and represented to others that he was the child’s father.
In most cases, except for one situation, a man is only presumed to be the father of a child if he is married or was recently married to the mother. If none of the presumptions above apply, the child’s mother or father must take additional steps to establish paternity.
Acknowledgment or Adjudication
For the biological father to have any legal rights or duties to the child, paternity must be established. If a presumption of paternity does not exist under the law, then establishing paternity in Texas can be done in two main ways. These ways include filing an Acknowledgment of Paternity form or by court order.
An Acknowledgment of Paternity is a legal form that states that a man is the child’s biological father. Both the child’s mother and the biological father must voluntarily sign it. Then, it must be filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit.
If there is a dispute about paternity, the child’s mother or the alleged father can file a paternity suit. The court will order genetic testing. If the test results find the alleged father to be at least 99 percent likely of paternity, there may be a civil proceeding to adjudicate him as the child’s father.
It is important to understand that establishing paternity can be complex. There are many nuances to the law, and every case is different. We recommend working with an experienced Texas child custody lawyer to help you with your case.
Contact Our Texas Child Custody Attorneys to Schedule a Consultation
Do you have questions about your child custody rights in Texas as an unmarried mother or father? Do not hesitate to contact our Texas child custody lawyers to discuss custody laws for unmarried parents and your unique situation.
At Warren & Migliaccio, we help our clients with a wide range of family law matters, including child custody and child support issues. During a consultation, we can answer your legal questions and discuss your situation. We can also determine the best legal options for your child custody goals and discuss how we can help you. Call us or contact us online to get started.