Paternity is the legal identification of a child’s father. When paternity is established the child’s genetic father becomes the child’s legal father with all of the rights and duties of a parent. Paternity can be established by legal presumption (when the parents are married), by filing an acknowledgment of paternity or by court order
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Establishing paternity secures a father’s rights as a parent. Also, children need and are entitled to:
- financial support from both parents. A court cannot order an alleged father to pay child support until paternity has been established.
- benefits, such as social security, insurance, inheritance and veteran’s benefits, from both parents if they are available. A child might not be able to claim benefits from the father if paternity has not been established.
- medical history. Children have the right to know if they have inheritable health problems.
An Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) is a legal form signed by a man and the child’s mother that states (under penalty of perjury) that the man is the child’s genetic father. An AOP is usually used when the parents aren’t married but agree on the identity of the child’s father.
When the completed AOP is filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit, the genetic father becomes the child’s legal father with all the rights and duties of a parent.
Exception: If the child’s mother is married to someone else when the child is born (or the child is born within 300 days of the date of divorce) then the husband (or ex-husband) is the child’s presumed father. You cannot use the AOP form to establish paternity unless the presumed father also signs a Denial of Paternity (DOP).
Yes. For an Acknowledgement to be valid, it must be filed with the Vital Statistics Unit and:
- be signed under penalty of perjury. (This means you could be charged with a crime if you lie.); and
- state whether or not the child has a presumed father, and if so, state the presumed father’s name; and
- state that the child does not already have an acknowledged father. (This means no one else has signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity claiming to be the child’s father.); and
- state that the child does not have an adjudicated father. (This means no one has been named as the child’s father in a court order.); and
- state whether or not genetic testing has been done, and if it has, that the test shows that the man signing the Acknowledgment is the father.
A Denial of Paternity (DOP) is a legal form signed by a presumed father that states (under penalty of perjury) that the presumed father is not the child’s genetic father. To be valid, the child’s genetic father and mother must also sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) and both the DOP and the AOP forms must be filed with the Vital Statistics Unit.
Yes. For a Denial of Paternity to be valid, it must be filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit and:
- be signed under penalty of perjury. (This means you could be charged with a crime if you lie on the form.); and
- the man signing must not have previously signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity (unless the Acknowledgment was successfully rescinded or challenged); and
- the man signing must not be have been named as the child’s father in a court order.
You can rescind an AOP or DOP you signed if you file a Rescission of Acknowledgment of Paternity form with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit:
- before the 60th day after the effective date of the Acknowledgment or Denial of Paternity, and
- before a court case about the child is filed.
If you don’t meet the deadline to rescind, you may be able to challenge an AOP or DOP you signed by filing a court case in the county where the child lives.
Learn more here: How to Take Back (Rescind or Challenge) an AOP or DOP
You may be able to challenge your AOP or DOP after the deadline to rescind has expired, but only if:
- you signed the AOP or DOP based on fraud, duress or material mistake of fact, and
- you file a court case to challenge your AOP or DOP before a court order about the child is made.
Or, if you signed an AOP (based on misrepresentations that caused you to believe you were the genetic father) you may be able to file a mistaken paternity case. Learn more here: I want to terminate my parental rights. I mistakenly thought I was the genetic father.
No. But you may ask a court to order that you are the child’s legal father by filing a paternity case if you didn’t sign the AOP (or any accompanying DOP) and:
- it has been less than 4 years since the effective date of the AOP, or
- the AOP is void.
Use this toolkit to ask for a paternity order: I need a paternity order.
If you have questions, use Ask a Question to chat with a lawyer online.
Divorce can be a dangerous time. If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your children, call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They can refer you to help in your community.
For legal help, you can also call:
- Texas Advocacy Project Hope Line at 1-800-374-HOPE (4673)
- Advocates for Victims of Crime at 1-888-343-4414
For situations involving sexual assault, you can also call:
- Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault at 1-800-991-5153
If you are an immigrant, you can also call:
- Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) 512-994-2199
In an emergency, please call 911.
Find out more in the Protection from Violence or Abuse section of this website.
You do not have to have a lawyer to file or respond to a divorce case. However, divorce cases can be complicated and your rights as a parent, your property and your money may be at risk.
It’s a good idea to talk with a family law lawyer about your particular situation. Family law lawyers specialize in cases involving families, like divorce. A family law lawyer can explain your rights and options.
It’s really important to talk with a family law lawyer if any of the following are true.
- You are afraid for your or your children’s safety.
- Your case is contested.
- Your spouse has a lawyer.
- You or your spouse have a house, retirement, business, other valuable property or a lot of debt.
- You need spousal maintenance (alimony).
- You and your spouse have a child with a disability.
- You or your spouse have an ongoing bankruptcy or are planning to file for bankruptcy.
- You are in a same sex-marriage and you and your spouse have a child but there is no adoption or other court order stating that you are both legal parents.
If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:
You can file for divorce in Texas if you or your spouse has lived:
- in Texas for at least the last 6 months, and
- in the county where you file for divorce for at least the last 90 days.
See Texas Family Code Section 6.301.
Note for military families: If you are serving in the military or other government service outside of Texas you may still file for divorce in Texas if:
- Texas has been the home state of either you or your spouse for at least 6 months and
- the county where you plan to file the divorce has been the home county of either spouse for at least 90 days.
The same rule applies if you accompanied your spouse who is serving in the military or other government service outside of Texas. If Texas is your home state, time spent outside of Texas with your military spouse counts as time spent in Texas.
See Texas Family Code Section 6.303.
Note for military families with children: Talk to a lawyer if you and your spouse have children together and your children have lived in another state or country for the last 6 months. A Texas court may not have jurisdiction to make orders about your children.
As long as you meet the residency requirements for divorce, you can get divorced in Texas even if your spouse lives in another state.
Note: The court must have personal jurisdiction over your out-of-state spouse to include orders in your divorce that impose a personal obligation on your spouse — such as ordering your spouse to pay a debt or pay child support. The Original Petition for Divorce form includes a list of situations that give the Court personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state spouse. Check any that apply to your case. Talk to a lawyer if none apply or you have questions about personal jurisdiction.
Before you can file a new divorce case, all prior divorce cases must be dismissed. You must tell the judge about all other court cases between you and your spouse. If a prior case is still active, the court might not have jurisdiction in a new case. Talk to a lawyer if you have a prior case that might be active.
Yes. You can get divorced in Texas if:
- your marriage is valid in the place where you were married, and
- you or your spouse has lived in Texas for at least the last six months and in the county where you file for divorce for at least the last 90 days.
Yes. You may file for divorce in Texas even if you do not have legal status in the United States, if you or your spouse has:
- lived in Texas for at least the last 6 months, and
- lived in the county where you file for divorce for at least the last 90 days.
When you file for divorce, you must usually pay a “filing fee.” If you need to have your spouse served, you must also pay an “issuance fee” and a “service fee.” These fees vary by county. Contact the district clerk’s office in the county where you plan to file for divorce to learn the fees.
If you don’t have enough money to pay the fees, you can ask a judge to waive the fees by completing and filing a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. Read this short article to learn more: Court Fees & Waivers.
No. Texas is a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that a divorce can be granted without either spouse being at fault as long as one spouse believes that the relationship can’t be fixed.
Note: The TexasLawHelp.org divorce forms only include the “no-fault” grounds for divorce. They do not include any fault-based grounds for divorce. Talk to a lawyer if you want to ask for a divorce based on fault.
TexasLawHelp.org has instructions for uncontested divorces. Your divorce is uncontested if it can be finished by agreement or by default.
- Your divorce can be finished by agreement if you and your spouse agree about all the issues (including custody, visitation and child support) and are both willing to sign the divorce forms.
- Your divorce can be finished by default (without your spouse) if your spouse is served and your spouse does not file an answer or otherwise appear in court.
Your divorce is contested if your spouse files an answer or waiver of service and will not sign the Final Decree of Divorce. To finish a contested divorce, you must set your case for final hearing and give your spouse at least 45 days’ notice of the hearing. It’s important to talk with a lawyer if your case is contested.
Read this article to learn more: How to Set a Contested Final Hearing (Family Law).
Your spouse cannot stop you from getting a divorce. Texas is a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that a divorce can be granted without either spouse being at fault. As long as one spouse believes that the relationship cannot be fixed, the judge will grant the divorce.
In almost all cases, you must wait at least 60 days before you can finish your divorce.
When counting the 60 days, find the day you filed your Original Petition for Divorce on a calendar, and then count out 60 more days (including weekends and holidays). If the 60th day falls on a weekend or holiday, go to the next business day. Note: When counting the 60 day waiting period, don’t count the day you filed your Original Petition for Divorce. Day 1 is the next day.
There are only two exceptions to the 60-day waiting period.
- If your spouse has been convicted of or received deferred adjudication for a crime involving family violence against you or a member of your household, the 60-day waiting period is waived.
- If you have an active protective order or an active magistrate’s order for emergency protection against your spouse because of family violence during your marriage, the 60-day waiting period is waived.
Note: You can always wait longer than 60 days, but your divorce cannot be finished in fewer than 60 days unless one of these exceptions applies.
If you need orders right away, you may ask a judge to make a temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or temporary orders. A temporary restraining order lasts until you can have a temporary orders hearing. Temporary orders typically last until the divorce is finished. Get more information here: Temporary Orders & Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs).
Note: A family violence protective order is different from a temporary restraining order. If you need a family violence protective order call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Mediation can be helpful when both people have equal power. Both people must be able to say what they want without being afraid or pressured.
Threats and control are common in relationships where one person is abusive. If the abuser is used to being in charge and making all the decisions, mediation probably won’t work very well.
Mediation may be even more of a problem if your spouse abused you and you don’t have a lawyer.