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Parents' rights to child custody when they are not married


There are many parents who have children in Texas, but were not married to the other parent at the time the child was born. This is becoming more and more common. These parents are no less a parent than those who are married when they have children in a biological sense, but the law does not see them in the same way. Mothers always have legal rights to the child, but the fathers are treated differently.

If the father is married to the mother at the time the child is conceived, the father is considered the legal parent of the child and there is no need to establish paternity. However, if the father is not married to the mother, the father has no legal rights to the child until paternity is established.

This may not seem very important to the parents right away, but there are many benefits of doing so. Mothers need to establish paternity before they can seek child support or hold the father legally responsible for the child. Fathers need to establish paternity before they can seek child custody or parenting time. They also do not have a right to any medical or school information about their child until paternity is established.

Once paternity has been established though, the decisions regarding child support, child custody and parenting time are dealt with in a similar manner as a divorce. Custody decisions will be based on what is in the best interests of the child.

Fathers of children in Texas who were conceived out of wedlock may be the biological father of their children, just like married fathers are, but they are not the legal fathers. This does not occur until the paternity has been established in court. Once this occurs, the father has a right to pursue custody just like a married father. However, this can be a complicated process. Attorneys understand this, and may be able to guide one through the process of establishing paternity.

Source: Texas Attorney General, "Paternity Child Support and You" accessed on Aug. 28, 2017

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