When a child is born to unmarried parents in Texas, the unmarried father is not automatically presumed to be the legal father of the child for either possession and access rights or for child support orders. For that reason, it is a good idea for the unmarried father's paternity to be legally determined, both so that the father can assert his rights to the child and so that the other parent may seek a child support order if she has possession of the child.
Some people do not think paternity needs to be established if the unmarried father is already providing support for the child on his own. It is still important, however, since the father could stop paying and there would then be no legal recourse. Fathers may also want to establish paternity. After a father's paternity is established, he may then file petitions to request either access rights to the child or possession of the child. If possession and access is under dispute, the parents can have the decision determined by the court at a contested hearing.
Parents can establish paternity by signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity and filing it with the Department of Vital Statistics. If the mother is married to a different man, that man will be legally presumed to be the father and a case will need to be opened in the court. If either the mother or the unmarried father are uncertain of the child's paternity, either can request scientific testing in order to determine paternity.
Unmarried fathers can benefit by establishing their paternity. They may then assert their rights to child custody and support. An unmarried father may be able to gain court-ordered access and then develop a relationship with his child. A family law attorney could help either unmarried fathers or mothers establish paternity and litigate child support and custody matters.