As a father, you have a lot to offer your children.
Your involvement in your child’s life can help them to thrive socially, scholastically, and professionally.
Texas law recognizes that children benefit from a strong parent-child relationship and gives dads the right to raise their children.
In Texas, fathers have rights regarding the care and upbringing of their children. Though Texas law recognizes a dad’s rights, the father must still assert these rights if he is to benefit from having them at all.
Do Fathers Have Rights in Texas?
All parents have certain rights, called parental rights. Parents also have certain responsibilities to support their children. These include the duty to:
- Care, control, and protect the child;
- Provide clothing, food, shelter, medical care, and education; and
- Manage the child’s estate.
As a parent, fathers have these and other parental rights. Although courts used to prefer mothers, especially in custody disputes, this is not the standard in Texas today.
The parental rights of a mother and a father are the same under Texas law.
How Do I Establish Paternity?
Paternity is the legal recognition that a man is a child’s father. Paternity is important because it is the first step in determining the rights and responsibilities of a child’s legal father.
Texas courts will automatically recognize your parental rights if your child was born in wedlock. If not, you may have to do more to establish paternity.
WHAT IS A PRESUMED FATHER?
In Texas, the law recognizes presumptions of paternity. A presumption of paternity means that, in certain circumstances, the law will assume a man is a child’s father.
Fathers that qualify as presumed fathers automatically get a parent’s legal rights.
The Texas Family Code gives several situations in which the law presumes paternity. Most of these apply to fathers who are married to the child’s mother at some point. Only one presumption applies to unmarried fathers.
If the couple was married before the child was born, paternity is presumed if the child was born:
- During the marriage or
- Less than 301 days after the marriage ended.
If the couple was married after the child was born, paternity is presumed if the father:
- Files a document asserting his paternity with the Texas vital statistics unit;
- Is named on the child’s birth certificate as the father; or
- Promises in writing to support the child as his own.
If the couple was never married, paternity is presumed if the father:
- Continuously lived with the child in the same household during the first two years of the child’s life and
- Represented to others that the child was his own.
A father represents to others that the child is his own if he holds himself out as the child’s parent. For example, the father might refer to the child as his son or daughter in conversations or decide things about the child’s care and upbringing.
HOW CAN I ESTABLISH PATERNAL RIGHTS IF I AM NOT THE PRESUMED FATHER?
If you are not the presumed father, you can ask a court to legally recognize you as the child’s father. When a court determines that a man is the legal father of a child, that ruling establishes paternity.
The court will probably order genetic testing to confirm that you are the child’s genetic father. If you are the genetic father, the court will issue an order acknowledging that you are a legal parent.
You can also establish paternity by executing an acknowledgment of paternity. An acknowledgment of paternity is a document signed by both the child’s mother and father.
The acknowledgment must state that you are the child’s genetic father. The acknowledgment must also state that the child has no other presumed, acknowledged, or adjudicated father.
What Are Fathers’ Rights in Texas?
One of the most significant rights a parent has is the right to child custody.
In Texas, custody is called conservatorship. There are two types of conservators: managing conservators and possessory conservators. Parents can share conservatorship, or one parent may be the sole conservator.
A managing conservator has certain rights regarding the child. These include, for example, the right to:
- Make decisions regarding the child’s education;
- Consent to medical treatment;
- Direct the child’s religious upbringing;
- Determine the child’s primary residence; and
- Receive child support on the child’s behalf.
A sole managing conservatorship means that only one parent has the rights listed above, and can make decisions without the other parent’s consent. When parents share these rights, they are joint managing conservators.
Where parents are joint managing conservators, however, the court will assign one parent the right to determine the child’s primary residence and to receive child support on the child’s behalf.
The Texas Family Code directs courts to presume that a joint managing conservatorship is in the child’s best interests. Sometimes, shared custody is not in the child’s best interests.
This could happen where, for example, one parent does not want the responsibilities of legal custody. The court could also find a joint managing conservatorship inappropriate where:
- One parent has a history of domestic violence or neglect;
- One parent has a history of substance abuse;
- One parent has a criminal record involving violent crimes;
- One parent is absent from the child’s life; or
- The two parents have extreme conflicts regarding the educational, medical, and religious upbringing of the child.
In these situations, the court might decide that a sole managing conservatorship is best for the child.
When one parent is the sole managing conservator, the other is generally a possessory conservator. A possessory conservator has fewer rights than the sole managing conservator but has certain basic rights given to all parents.
These include, for example, the right to:
- Attend school activities;
- Receive information about the child’s health, education, and welfare;
- Confer with the other parent about the health, education, and welfare of the child;
- Access the child’s medical and educational records;
- Consult with the child’s health care providers; and
- Consult with school officials about the child’s welfare and education.
The possessory conservator typically will also have visitation rights.
How is custody decided in Texas?
In some cases, parents can agree on custody themselves. A court hearing the matter may base custody on this agreement. However, parents often cannot agree to a custody arrangement on their own.
When parents cannot agree, a court will decide the custody matter. Texas, like most states, follows the best interests of the child standard in deciding custody issues.
Texas courts consider a variety of factors in determining the child’s best interests, including:
- The child’s age;
- The mental, emotional, and physical needs of the child;
- The potential harm or danger to the child;
- The parenting abilities of each parent;
- The financial well-being of each parent;
- The willingness and ability of the parent to make environmental and personal changes within a reasonable time; and
- The ability of the parents to cooperate in sharing parental responsibilities.
The court might consider the child’s opinions and preferences if the child is at least 12 years old. However, children do not get to decide which parent they will live with.
Do courts favor the mother in custody disputes?
In the past, a mother had presumptive custody of a child over a father. At common law, this presumption was called the tender years doctrine.
The tender years doctrine presumed that a mother should have custody of a child during the child’s tender years (generally children four years of age and younger).
While the law used to favor mothers, this is no longer the case in Texas custody matters. Texas abandoned the common law presumption that favored mothers in custody determinations.
Texas law also expressly forbids courts from basing custody decisions on gender.
The courts now use the best interests of the child standard in making custody determinations. Texas courts recognize that having a relationship with both parents is in the child’s best interests.
Courts hearing custody disputes prefer shared custody arrangements if it is in the child’s best interest.
Texas law uses the term possession to refer to visitation. The possessory conservator may get visitation rights. After the court determines conservatorship, it will enter an order that sets out a possession schedule and visitation orders.
Most of the time, the court will use the Standard Possession Order set out by the Texas Family Code.
The possession schedule provides the days and times the child will stay with the possessory conservator.
ADOPTION NOTICE AND CONSENT
In Texas, a dad’s rights include the right to be told about the mother’s plan to place the child up for adoption. A father’s rights also include the right to consent to the adoption.
Putative fathers generally have the right to receive notice of an adoption. A putative father is believed to be the child’s biological father but has not legally established his paternal rights.
Putative fathers who suspect they fathered a child that will be put up for adoption can register with the Texas putative father registry.
The registered putative father will be notified of any adoption petitions or proceedings that are filed relating to the child.
It is important that putative fathers register with the putative father registry. A father who does not register may risk losing his parental rights, including the right to consent (or not consent) to the adoption.
The parent with whom the child lives is ordinarily entitled to child support payments from the other parent.
Texas law calculates child support using a formula based on the number of children and the income of the parent that will be paying child support.
The rules vary a bit for those with higher incomes (more than $9,200 per month).
Discuss Father’s Rights with a Skilled Family Law Attorney
Are you facing a custody battle and worried about protecting your rights as a father? Take the first step and hire an experienced attorney to champion your rights.
Attorney Ben Carrasco is an experienced family law attorney who provides his clients with zealous representation and unmatched personalized service.
If you need a lawyer to fight for your fathers’ rights, contact the Family Law Office of Ben Carrasco, PLLC, today.