According to Child Trends, the families in which children are being born, and which children spend their early childhood have changed dramatically in the last 20 plus years. “Among the most notable changes is an increase in nonmarital childbearing – that is, the percentage of children born to unmarried parents,” it states on their website. Adding, “Recent estimates show that about 40 percent of births in the United States occur outside of marriage, up from 28 percent in 1990.”
The above statistics don’t surprise us because we have seen in with our clients. Not only do we represent divorcing couples with children, but a percentage of our clients were never married but they’re still trying to sort out their child custody issues. With so many children being borne out of wedlock (outside marriage), many questions have arisen about the legal rights of unmarried fathers, and reasonably so.
No Paternity, No Father’s Rights
When an unmarried woman has a baby, she automatically has sole legal and physical custody of her child without going to court. Until paternity is established legally, the father has zero rights and responsibilities toward his child. This means that:
- He can’t demand that the mother let him see his child
- He isn’t legally obligated to pay child support
- The mom can’t demand child support until paternity is established
In Texas, there are two ways to establish paternity: 1) both parents can voluntarily sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form, which is usually done at the hospital after the child’s birth, or 2) through a court-ordered paternity test. If you are an alleged father and you have any doubt about paternity, you should NOT sign the AOP form. Instead, you should petition the court for a DNA (paternity) test.
Once paternity is confirmed by the courts, the court can issue orders for child custody, visitation, and child support. If a father intends on seeking custody or visitation, it’s wise for him to try and be involved in the child’s life and help the mother out financially. If a mother suspects the father is going to seek custody and domestic violence and substance abuse are not concerns, it’s smart for her to allow him to visit with his child, even if the court has yet to issue a child custody order.
Need help with a child custody, child support, or paternity matter? If so, contact The Law Office of Gregory C. Goline, PLLC.