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Instructions & Forms for a Default Paternity Case

These instructions explain the basic steps in a default paternity case. Each step includes a link to the form or forms needed for that step.

A paternity order says who is (and sometimes who is not) a child’s legal father. A paternity order can include orders for custody, visitation, child support and medical support (although it doesn’t have to).

 “Default” means a respondent is served with the initial court papers and does not file an answer with the court. If a respondent is served and defaults, you can finish your paternity case without that respondent.

NOTE: Filing a paternity case is complicated (especially if it’s not agreed or you or the other side wants genetic testing). It may be better to open a case with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) or hire a private lawyer, rather than file a paternity case yourself. For information about opening a case with the OAG, call 1-800-255-8014 or go to the OAG’s website: Texas Attorney General Child Support Division.

Have you read the Frequently Asked Questions and related Articles?

These instructions are part of this TexasLawHelp.org toolkit: I need a paternity order. It’s important to read the Frequently Asked Questions and Articles included with the toolkit before getting started.

WARNING! These instructions provide general information, not legal advice. It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your particular situation.

You can print these instructions to use as a checklist.

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Step 1: Know these words.

It’s important to understand these words.

  • Alleged Father - A man who claims, or is claimed to be, the biological father or possible biological father of the child. 
  • Presumed Father - A man who:
    • was married to the child’s mother when the child was born; or
    • was married to the child’s mother any time during the 300 days before the child was born; or
    • married the child’s mother after the child was born and voluntarily claimed paternity of the child with the vital statistics unit, on the child’s birth certificate, or in a record in which he promised to support the child as his own; or
    • during the first two years of the child’s life, continuously lived with the child and represented to others that the child was his own.
  • Acknowledged Father - A man who signed a valid Acknowledgment of Paternity claiming to be the father of a child. To be valid, the Acknowledgment of Paternity must also have been signed by the child’s mother (and presumed father, if applicable) and filed with the Vital Statistics Unit.
  • Adjudicated Father - A man named as the father of a child in a court order.
  • Acknowledgment of Paternity - A legal form signed by a child’s mother and biological father to establish paternity of the child. When the form is filed with the Vital Statistics Unit, the biological father becomes the child’s legal father. To be valid, the child’s biological father and mother must also sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity.
  • Denial of Paternity - A legal form signed by a presumed father to swear that he is not the child’s biological father. To be valid, the child’s biological father and mother must also sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity.
  • Vital Statistics Unit - State office responsible for birth certificates. For more information visit their website at http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/vs/default.shtm or call them at 1-888-963-7111.
Step 2: Make sure you can file the case.

The law only allows the following people to file a paternity case for a minor child:

  • the child’s mother; or
  • if the child’s mother has died, then the mother’s parent, grandparent, sibling, or child; or
  • a man who thinks he may be the father; or
  • a man presumed to be the father, asking the court to order that he’s not the father; or
  • the child; or
  • a person who is the intended parent in an approved gestational agreement.

A governmental agency, adoption agency, or authorized representative may also file a court case to establish paternity of a minor child.

If the child is an adult, then a paternity case may only be filed by the adult child.

If the law allows you to file a paternity case, go to Step 3. If you’re not sure, talk with a lawyer.

Step 3: Make sure the court has jurisdiction over the alleged father and the child.

If you’re asking the court to establish paternity, the court must have jurisdiction over the man alleged to be the child’s father. A Texas court has jurisdiction over an alleged father if:

  • the alleged father agrees and files written papers in the case; or
  • the alleged father is personally served in Texas with legal notice of the paternity case; or
  • the alleged father lived in Texas with the child at some time; or
  • the alleged father lived in Texas and paid prenatal expenses for the child; or
  • the alleged father had sexual intercourse in Texas which led to the child’s conception; or
  • the child lives in Texas because of something the alleged father did; or
  • the child was born in Texas and the alleged father registered with the paternity registry maintained by the Texas Vital Statistics Unit or signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit

If you’re also asking the court to make orders about custody and visitation, the court must also have jurisdiction over the child. Generally, a Texas court will only have jurisdiction over a child if the child has lived in Texas for at least the past 6 months or since birth for an infant.

If the court has jurisdiction over both the alleged father and the child, go to Step 4. If you’re not sure, talk with a lawyer.

Step 4: Determine if there is a deadline to file the case.

The law limits when a paternity case may be filed if the child already has a presumed, acknowledged or adjudicated father.

  • If the child does not have a presumed, acknowledged or adjudicated father, there is no deadline. A paternity case may be filed at any time. (However, after the child turns 18, only the child may file.)
  • If the child has a presumed father, you must file a paternity case before the child turns 4, unless:
  1. you are the presumed father and you didn’t file the paternity case before the child turned 4 because you were mislead into believing that you were the biological father or
  2. the presumed father and mother did not live together or engage in sexual intercourse with each other during the time the child was conceived.
  • If the child has an acknowledged father, you can file a paternity case only if you didn’t sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity (or any accompanying Denial of Paternity) and:
  1. it has been less than 4 years since the effective date of the Acknowledgment or
  2. the Acknowledgment is void.
  • If the child has an adjudicated father, you can file a paternity case only if:
  1. you were not a party in the court case that named the father of the child and
  2. it has been less than 4 years since the effective date of the court order naming the father of the child.

If there is no deadline to file (because the child does not have a presumed, acknowledged or adjudicated father) or the deadline has not passed, go to Step 5. If you’re not sure, talk with a lawyer.

Step 5: Fill out the starting forms.

Fill out this starting form:

You will file the Petition with the court to start the case. It tells the judge and the other people involved what orders you want the judge to make. The Frequently Asked Questions and related Articles included with these instructions will help you understand your options.

When you fill out the Petition:

  • Print your answers clearly in blue or black ink.
  • Do not leave blanks.
  • Talk to a lawyer if you have questions or need help.

Who is the petitioner? You are the petitioner – the person asking the court to make a paternity order.

Who must be listed as a respondent? The following people must be included in a paternity case:

  • the child’s mother; and
  • all alleged fathers; and
  • any presumed, acknowledged or adjudicated fathers; and
  • anyone with a court-ordered relationship with the child.

Note: The Petition asks for your address. Each respondent will get a copy of your Petition. If you are concerned about a respondent knowing your address, call the Family Violence Legal Line at 1-800-374-4673 for free advice.

Fill out these additional starting forms if required for your case:

Step 6: Have your starting forms reviewed.

Although not required, it’s a good idea to have a family law lawyer review your completed starting forms. Family law lawyers specialize in cases involving families, such as paternity cases.

You can hire a family law lawyer just to review your forms. Hiring a lawyer for a limited purpose is called “limited scope representation.” You can then finish your case yourself. You may also be able to talk with a lawyer for free at a legal clinic.

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:

Step 7: Make copies of your starting forms.

Make enough copies of these completed starting forms for you and each respondent to have one copy of each form:

  • Petition to Adjudicate Parentage
  • Exhibit: Out-of-State Party Declaration (if required for your case)
  • Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Courts (if required for your case)
Step 8: File (turn in) your starting forms.

File (turn in) your completed Petition and other starting forms with the court in the county where the child lives.

  • To file your forms online, go to E-File Texas and follow the instructions.
  • To file your forms in person, take your Petition and additional starting forms (and copies) to the district clerk’s office in the county where the child lives.

At the clerk’s office:

  • Turn in your Petition and other starting forms (and copies).
  • Tell the clerk you want to have one or more of the respondents named in your Petition served in person. This means a sheriff, constable or private process server will deliver the initial court papers to each respondent in person. (Exception: If a respondent will agree to sign the necessary court forms, you do not need to have that respondent served. Follow these instructions for that respondent: Instructions & Forms for an Agreed Paternity Case.) 
  • Pay the filing fee and issuance fee (or file your completed Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs if you cannot afford the fees).
  • If you are filing a Motion for Genetic Testing ask the clerk how to get a date for the hearing on your motion. Follow the clerk’s instructions. Write the date and time of the hearing on the motion. File the motion with the clerk.
  • Ask the clerk if there is a local standing order that you need to follow or attach to your Petition.
  • Ask the clerk if there are local rules or procedures you need to know about for your case.
  • The clerk will write your “Cause Number” and “Court Number” at the top of the first page of your Petition. (Write these numbers at the top of any document you file in your case.)
  • The clerk will “file stamp” your copies with the date and time. The clerk will keep the original and return your copies.
  • The clerk will print a form called a “citation” for each respondent. The citation tells the respondent that you have filed a paternity case. The citation also tells the respondent that unless he or she files an answer with the court you will be able to finish your case by default (without the respondent). The clerk will attach a copy of your petition (and motion for genetic testing if applicable) to the citation. The citation and petition (and motion for genetic testing if applicable) are the “initial court papers” that must be served on the respondent by a constable, sheriff or private process server. Read Step 9 for instructions.
Step 9: Have each respondent served.

You must have each respondent served in person with the initial court papers. (Exception: If a respondent will agree to sign the necessary court forms, you do not need to have that respondent served. Follow these instructions for that respondent: Instructions & Forms for an Agreed Paternity Case.) 

To have a respondent served in person:

  • send the initial court papers to a constable, sheriff or private process server in the county where the respondent lives or works;
  • include the service fee (call first to learn the fee) or a file-stamped copy of your Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs; and
  • include a self-addressed and stamped envelope.

The constable, sheriff or private process server will:

  • give the initial court papers to the respondent;
  • complete a Return of Service form that says when and where the respondent was served; and
  • send the completed Return of Service to you or the court.

The completed Return of Service is proof the respondent was served. The respondent will NOT have to sign anything.

If the Return of Service is sent to you, file it at the clerk’s office. The Return of Service must be on file for at least 10 days before you can finish your case, not counting the day it is filed or the day you go to court to finish your case.

If you have problems getting a respondent served, you can use Ask a Question to chat with a lawyer or law student online. Note: A respondent in a paternity case must usually be served in person.

Step 10: Notify the Office of the Attorney General (if applicable).

Has the child ever received TANF or Medicaid?

  • If NO, skip this step.
  • If YES, you must send a file-stamped copy of your Petition to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) Child Support Division.
    • Send By Email – You can scan a file-stamped copy of your Petition and email it. Find the email address for the OAG child support office in the county where your case is filed here: Email Addresses for Child Support Offices. Write the cause number and the county where you filed your case in the subject line of the email. Print a copy of your email. Bring it with you when it’s time to finish your case.
    • Send By Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested – Or, you can mail a copy of your Petition by certified mail return receipt requested. The post office has the forms for certified mail return receipt requested. Find the mailing address for the OAG child support office in the county where your case is filed here: Mailing Addresses for Child Support Offices. The post office will give you a receipt when you mail the Petition. Someone at the OAG child support office will sign the return receipt (often called the “green card”) and mail it back to you. Bring the receipt and the return receipt (green card) with you when it’s time to finish your case.
Step 11: Attend the hearing on your Motion for Genetic Testing (if applicable).

If you filed a motion for genetic testing and scheduled a hearing, fill out this form and give it to the judge at the hearing.

Asking for genetic testing can be confusing, try to talk to a lawyer before the hearing.

Step 12: Fill out the ending forms.

Fill out this ending form:

You will ask the judge to sign the Order Adjudicating Parentage when it’s time to finish your case. It must be completely filled out (except for the judge’s signature) before you go to Court.

If you asked the judge to make custody, possession (visitation), child support and medical support orders, you must also fill out these ending forms and attach them to the Order Adjudicating Parentage form.

Fill out this additional ending form if child support will be ordered:

Step 13: Have your ending forms reviewed.

Although not required, it’s a good idea to have a family law lawyer review your completed ending forms.

You can hire a family law lawyer just to review your forms. Hiring a lawyer for a limited purpose is called “limited scope representation.” You may then be able to finish your case yourself. You may also be able to talk with a lawyer for free at a legal clinic.

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:

Step 14: Wait the required waiting periods.

These waiting periods are required:

  • 20 + day waiting period – From the day each respondent is served, each respondent must have at least 20 days plus the next Monday at 10:00 a.m. to file an answer. For each respondent, find the day that respondent was served on a calendar, count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays), and then go to the next Monday. The respondent must have until this date to file an answer. If the respondent does not file an answer (and all other requirements have been met) you can finish your case by default without that respondent. Note: A respondent can file an Answer after the 20 + day waiting period has already passed if the case is still pending.
  • 10 + day waiting period – The constable, sheriff, or private process server should have completed a Return of Service form stating when each respondent was served. The Return of Service form must be on file with the court for at least 10 days before you can finish your case. Important: When counting the 10 day waiting period, do not count the day the Return of Service is filed with the court and do not count the day you go to court to finish your case.
Step 15: Determine if your case can be finished by default.

Call the clerk’s office to find out if any respondent filed an answer.

  • If any respondent filed an answer, you CANNOT finish your paternity case by default.
    • If all respondents that filed an answer will now agree to sign your completed Order Adjudicating Parentage form, you can finish your case by agreement.
    • If any respondent filed an answer and will not agree to sign your completed Order Adjudicating Parentage form, your case is contested. It is extremely important to talk to a lawyer if your case is contested. Your rights as a parent may be at risk.
    • To finish a contested case, you must set a contested final hearing. Read this article to learn more: How to Set a Contested Final Hearing (Family Law).  
  • If NO respondent filed an answer, you CAN finish your paternity case by default as long as:
    • each respondent was successfully served by a constable, sheriff or private process server; and
    • a Return of Service form for each respondent served has been on file with the clerk’s office for at least 10 days (not counting the day it was filed or the day you go to court); and
    • the 20 + day waiting period for each respondent to file an answer has passed; and
    • each respondent has not filed an answer and does not file an answer before you finish your paternity case. (Remember, any respondent can file an answer until the time you finish your paternity case, even if the 20 + day waiting period has already passed.)

If you CAN finish your paternity case by default, fill out these additional forms and make one copy of each form:

Step 16: Go to court to finish your case.

If you can finish your case by default, follow these steps.

  • Call the clerk’s office to learn when and where the court hears uncontested cases.

Note: If you had to send a copy of your Petition to the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division (because the child has received Medicaid or TANF), ask the clerk if the child support office has filed anything in your case. If yes and a hearing has been set, you must go to the hearing. If yes and a hearing has not been set, you must take your completed Order Adjudicating Parentage form to the child support office and ask for a lawyer there to review it and sign it (if they agree with it). If the child support office will not sign your completed Order Adjudicating Parentage form, your case is contested. To finish a contested case, you must set a contested final hearing. You must give the child support office and each respondent at least 45 days’ notice of the final hearing. Read this article to learn more: How to Set a Contested Final Hearing (Family Law). It’s always best to have a lawyer if your case is contested.

  • Read the article TIPS for the Courtroom for more information about going to Court.
  • Bring these papers with you to the courthouse on the day you plan to finish your case:
    • a file-stamped copy of your Petition to Adjudicate Parentage; and
    • a file-stamped copy of the Return of Service form showing when and where the respondent was served; and
    • a completed Order Adjudicating Parentage (with completed custody, possession, child support and medical support orders attached if applicable) signed by you; and
    • a completely filled out Income Withholding Order for Support if child support will be ordered; and
    • a completed Certificate of Last Known Mailing Address form and 1 copy; and
    • a completed Military Status Declaration (or Military Status Affidavit) and 1 copy; and
    • genetic testing results (if applicable); and
    • proof that you sent a copy of your Petition to the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division (if required – see Step 10); and
    • if another respondent was served and defaulted, you must also bring the following for that respondent:
      • A file-stamped copy of the Return of Service form showing when and where that respondent was served.
      • A completed Certificate of Last Known Mailing Address form and 1 copy.
      • A completed Military Status Declaration (or Military Status Affidavit) and 1 copy.
  • When you get to the courthouse, go to the clerk’s office.
    • Ask the clerk if you need the court file or docket sheet (list of what has been filed in your case).
    • Ask the clerk to check one more time to see if any respondent has filed an answer. If any respondent has filed an answer, you will not be able to finish your case by default. Go back to Step 15.
    • File the Certificate of Last Known Mailing Address and the Military Status Declaration (or Military Status Affidavit). Ask the clerk to file stamp your copy of each form. Bring a file-stamped copy of each form with you to court.
    • When you get to the courtroom, tell the clerk you are there and give the clerk your paperwork. Sit down until the judge calls your case.
    • When the judge calls your case, walk to the front of the courtroom and stand in front of the judge’s bench. The judge will have you raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth. Be prepared to quickly tell the judge: who you are, how you are related (if applicable) to the child, what orders you are asking the judge to make and why those orders would be in the child’s best interest. It’s a good idea to write down everything you want to say so you can read it to the judge if you get nervous.
    • The judge will listen to what you say and review your papers. If everything is in order the judge will sign your Order Adjudicating Parentage.
Step 17: File (turn in) the signed order or orders.

After the judge signs your Order Adjudicating Parentage, go back to the clerk’s office.

  • File (turn in) the signed Order Adjudicating Parentage and any other orders signed by the judge. Your case is NOT final until you do so.
  • Get a certified copy of your Order Adjudicating Parentage and any other orders signed by the judge from the clerk while you are there. The clerk may charge a fee for the certified copies. 
  • If child support was ordered:
    • ask the clerk what you need to do to set up a child support account, and
    • ask the clerk to send a copy of the Income Withholding Order for Support to the employer of the parent ordered to pay child support.
Step 18: After your case is finished.

Follow these steps after your case is finished.

  • Send a file-stamped copy of the Order Adjudicating Parentage and any other orders signed by the judge to each respondent.
  • If you were ordered to pay child support and/or cash medical support, learn about payment options here: Texas Attorney General - Child Support Payment Options. If you have any questions, call the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division at 1-800-252-8014. DO NOT send child support payments directly to the respondent.
  • If a respondent was ordered to pay child support and/or medical support to you and doesn’t pay, contact the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division for help enforcing your order.