The social stigma associated with having a child out of wedlock has significantly decreased in recent decades. More couples than ever before choose to have children without first marrying each other. Doing so usually seems like a logical choice based on personal preferences, but it can lead to challenges for the father later.
If the relationship ends before the couple’s infant is born, the unmarried father is in a difficult position. He does not automatically have a right to shared custody the way that a married father would. Instead, he has to take a special step in many cases before he can go to court to ask for shared custody.
Unmarried fathers must establish paternity
A man married to the mother of his children has a presumption of paternity under the law in Texas. Hospitals will typically include his name on the birth certificate automatically unless the parents request otherwise.
An unmarried father can have his name added to the birth certificate at the hospital if the mother recognizes that the man is the biological father of the child. They can also potentially file Acknowledgment of Paternity paperwork with the state to add their name to the birth certificates while the child is still a minor. Doing so typically requires the cooperation of the mother.
If she is uncooperative, then a father’s only option will likely be to take the matter to court. The family courts can order genetic testing. Typically, the state will test the mother, father and child. The results of those tests can affirm his paternity. Once a man establishes paternity legally, he can then request his parental rights.
How judges divide custody
A judge will assume in most cases that shared custody is the best arrangement for the children. They will give a father parenting time and also a share of legal decision-making authority in a contested custody case. Both parents will then need to work together to uphold the custody order and act in the best interest of their shared children.
A man who has not yet established paternity will not be able to request parenting time or decision-making rights. As a result, taking the time to legally establish paternity can help unmarried fathers in Texas pursue healthy and functional relationships with their children.