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.
An AOP and/or DOP can be completed at the hospital when the child is born. The hospital will then file the AOP and/or DOP with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit.
An AOP and/or DOP can also be completed before or after the child is born at a certified entity (such as a local birth registrar or child support office). Call 1-866-255-2006 to find a certified entity near you. The certified entity will then file the AOP and/or DOP with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit.
Parents who live out of state can get help completing an AOP or DOP over the phone by calling 1-866-255-2006.
Note: The effective date of an AOP or DOP is the date it is filed with the Texas Vital Statistic Unit. Exception: If the AOP or DOP is filed before the child is born, it takes effect on the day the child is born.
A man is the presumed father of a child if:
- he was married to the child’s mother when the child was born; or
- he was married to the child’s mother any time during the 300 days before the child was born; or
- he married the 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, he continuously lived with the child and represented to others that the child was his own.
A SAPCR case asks a judge to make a custody, visitation, child support, medical support, and dental support order for your child.
A paternity case can ask a judge to make a custody, visitation, child support, medical support, and dental support order for a child AND establish paternity (name the legal father of your child).
If you have been served with a citation and petition, there is a deadline to file your answer.
To determine the deadline, find the day you were served on a calendar. Count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays) then go to the next Monday. You must file your answer with the court on or before this date at 10:00 a.m. If the 20th day falls on a Monday, go to the next Monday. If the courts are closed on the day your answer is due, then your answer is due the next day the courts are open.
If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, the petitioner can finish the case without any further notice to you. This is called a “default judgment.”
If you have NOT been served with a citation and petition, there is no deadline to file your answer. You can file your answer at any time after the petitioner files a petition (the form that starts the lawsuit) with the court. If you file your answer, the petitioner will not need to have you served.
NOTE: The deadline to file an answer may be different if you have a civil case (such as an eviction or other type of case filed in Justice of the Peace court)
Under Texas law, intended parents may enter into a gestational agreement to have a child through assisted reproduction (by using a surrogate mother). If a couple enters into a gestational agreement and then files for divorce, there are certain statements regarding the gestational agreement that have to be made in the Original Petition for Divorce.