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Navigating Fathers’ Rights in Texas Custody Cases

Many fathers worry that they won’t get fair treatment in family court related to custody of their children. There is a common misconception that the mother always gets custody. In reality, fathers can also get favorable custody and visitation determinations. After establishing paternity, fathers’ rights in Texas can be substantial. The child’s best interests are the main priority, and each family situation differs. A skilled family law or child custody attorney can help protect your rights as a father.

Establishing Paternity or Legal Fatherhood

Establishing paternity is crucial for a father to assert his parental rights. It creates a legal child-parent relationship between the father and child. 

Married Men

Married men enjoy the presumption of paternity and don’t have to prove paternity if the child is born during the marriage. Other circumstances where a presumption of paternity exists include:

  • If the child is born before the 301st day after the marriage ends because of death, annulment, invalidity, or divorce;
  • If the man married the mother before the child was born and voluntarily asserted his paternity of the child, the presumption of paternity may be made within 301 days of the end of the marriage if any of the following occur:
    • The assertion of paternity is part of a record filed with the Vital Statistics Unit,
    • The man voluntarily signed the child’s birth certificate as the father, or
    • There is a recorded promise that the man agreed to support the child.
  • If the man continuously lived with the child and represented the child as his own for the child’s first two years of life.

Once paternity is established, both the mother and legal father can determine their rights and responsibilities.

Unmarried Men

The biological father isn’t presumed to be the legal parent if a couple isn’t married. Instead, the man must assert his paternity to obtain his parental rights. There are a couple of ways to establish paternity for an unmarried man. 

Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP)

One way to determine paternity is by completing an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). An AOP is a legal document that establishes paternity for unmarried couples. The child’s mother and the biological father sign a form agreeing that the man is the child’s genetic father. AOPS are common when the parents aren’t married but do agree on the father’s identity. Once the parties file the completed form with the Texas Vital Statistic Unit, the genetic father becomes the child’s legal father. As the legal father, the man then has all the rights and duties of a parent.

Court order

If there is a dispute over whether the man is the biological father, a court order can establish paternity. One of the parties (or a representative) can file a Petition to Adjudicate Parentage. The court may order that the alleged father take a DNA paternity test. 

The court will hold a hearing where the mother and purported father may attend. The court will review the petition and consider the DNA test results to determine if the man is the legal father.

Once the court orders that the alleged father is the legal father, the father may exercise his rights and responsibilities towards the child. 

If you are an unmarried father and you don’t assert your legal fatherhood, you may lose rights to your children. The mother may get full custody of your children, and you may have limited access to visitation. Working with an experienced family law attorney to help you establish paternity and protect your rights is essential.

Texas Fathers’ Rights 

With paternity established, the father has the same rights as the mother. Both parents have parental rights and duties for the child. Some of the main parental rights and duties include:

  • The right to physical possession of the child;
  • The right to choose their religious upbringing;
  • The right to determine where the child will live;
  • The duty to care, protect, and reasonably discipline the child;
  • The duty to provide support for the child (providing food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education); and
  • The right to make decisions about the child’s education.

It is best when the parents agree to share these rights and responsibilities. If they cannot agree, the court will review information about both parents and determine how to divide the rights and responsibilities.

Custody and Visitation Rights

In Texas, custody is called conservatorship. Fathers with established paternity have the right to pursue legal and physical conservatorship of their children. In Texas, judges prioritize the best interests of the child when making decisions about custody and visitation. Judges decide which parent or guardian can provide a stable, healthy, safe home environment for the child. The court may consider each parent’s mental and financial stability, past involvement in the child’s affairs, and parenting abilities. Courts may, in some cases, also consider the child’s wishes depending on their age and maturity level. 

Most judges prefer joint custody arrangements if possible. Joint custody is where both parents share custody of and decision-making abilities for the child. These arrangements are preferable because having both parents involved in the child’s life is generally believed to be in the child’s best interest.  

If the court awards sole conservatorship, one parent is the primary custodian. The other parent can still have the right to visitation. The parties or the court may set out a visitation schedule it deems appropriate for the parties.

Even if the mother has primary conservatorship, the father still has the right to file for legal custody to maintain the ability to make decisions on behalf of the children. A skilled child custody attorney can help you protect your right to legal custody.

Fathers demonstrating they are fit parents who can provide love, support, and care for their child have a greater chance of securing favorable custody and visitation orders. If a dad can show he is actively involved in the child’s life, is financially stable, and can maintain a safe and healthy home, he is more likely to receive a fair custody and visitation outcome.

The Ramos Law Group, PLLC, Can Help You Establish Your Texas Fathers’ Rights

As a father, you have the right to be in your child’s life and to care for and support your child. Unfortunately, asserting your rights may not always be straightforward. It can often be challenging and stressful. To understand the scope of your rights and to protect them, it is essential to work with an experienced family law attorney. The Ramos Law Group, PLLC, is one of Texas’s top family law firms and has served clients for over fourteen years. The founder of the firm, Mary E. Ramos, is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and was a 2023 Thomson Reuters Texas Super Lawyer. As a firm solely focused on family law, our attorneys are well-versed in navigating the challenges of fathers’ rights in Texas. They are familiar with the Texas family courts and can zealously advocate for your rights. Contact The Ramos Law Group today to learn how we can help you establish your paternity and assert your rights as a father.

Last Updated on May 8, 2024 by Mary E. Ramos

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Mary E. Ramos

Mary E. Ramos is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She is recognized and respected throughout the Houston legal community for dedication in effectively representing clients’ rights and interests. Mary understands the emotional side of divorce and brings a special compassion to each and every case.

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