Suits to adjudicate parentage are most commonly filed to establish paternity. Under the Texas Family Code, a man can become a father if his paternity is presumed. Paternity is presumed in the following scenarios:
The child was born during the marriage to the child’s mother (or within 300 days of ending his marriage to the child’s mother);
The man married the child’s mother within 300 days of its birth;
He marred the child’s mother after the birth of the child, he voluntarily asserted his paternity of the child and (1) the assertion is in a record filed with the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics; (2) he was voluntarily named as the child’s father on the birth certificate; or (3) he promised in a record to support the child as his own.
The paternity presumption can be rebutted by filing (1) a suit to adjudicate parentage; or (2) by having the presumed father filing a denial of paternity along with a valid acknowledgement of paternity by another person.
If a suit to adjudicate parentage is filed, the court typically will order some sort of genetic testing. If the genetic testing identifies the father, then there is a rebuttable presumption there is a 99 percent change the identified man is the child’s father. This presumption can be rebutted only by a second genetic testing that either excludes the man as the child’s father or identifies another man as the child’s father.
Additionally, man becomes a father when he signs an acknowledgment of paternity that meets the requirements of the Texas Family Code. If a man signs such an acknowledgement, paternity is established (not presumed) and the child is legitimized.
The Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics maintains the state’s paternity registry for the purpose of permitting a man alleging to be the biological father of a child to assert his parentage, independent of the mother, and preserve his right as a parent. A man who is otherwise presumed to be the father of the child does not have to file any notice of intent to claim paternity with the registry; but, a man who is not presumed to be the father of the child may file such notice to preserve his rights to the child. There is a narrow window of time that a man has to file his notice of intent to claim paternity. The notice must be filed within thirty-one days after the child is born. If the notice is not filed within this time, the only method available to him to voluntarily establish paternity is filing a suit in court. If a man fails to register with the paternity registry, and the man is not presumed, acknowledged or adjudicated as the father, then he may suffer permanent termination of his parental rights without notice to him.
Michelle May O’Neil, president of O’Neil Attorneys and a Certified Family Law Specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, is nationally recognized as a leader in family law. She focuses on child-custody disputes, complex marital-property litigation, and family-law appeals. May also acts as a mediator for other attorneys in resolving family-law disputes.