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What are unwed fathers' rights with regards to child custody?

Fathers in Texas love their children, even if they are no longer in a relationship with the child's mother. Seeking fathers' rights over child custody may be very complicated. There are even more obstacles if the parents are unwed.

The husband is considered the child's father when a married couple has a baby. However, there is no presumption of paternity when a child is born to unmarried parents. Accordingly, unwed fathers have no legal status concerning visitation, shared custody or making decisions about the child's welfare.

The easiest method to establish paternity is to ensure that the father's name is listed on the child's birth certificate. The least complicated way to do this is being with the mother when the baby is born and helping her fill out the birth certificate forms.

The father can contact the Texas Attorney General's child support enforcement division if the mother contests paternity. He can also petition a state court to establish his paternity. The court may order a paternity test.

Once paternity is established, custody status must be established. Custody status is the same for married and unmarried fathers after paternity is established. A father must petition a court concerning this status if the couple separates or they plan not to raise the child together. Usually, fathers must overcome the presumption held by government agencies and family law courts that a child should be with the mother unless she is an unfit parent.

If a father objects to the mother's full custody, he may seek joint or shared custody or visitation rights. If the mother is an unfit parent, he should ask for full legal custody. Before going to court, the parents should try to agree on a parenting plan that sets forth each of their responsibilities.

Fathers also have financial responsibilities for their children unless paternity is terminated. If the couple raises the child together, financial support is informal. If the couple separates, child support becomes a legal responsibility. Courts consider numerous factors when setting support obligations.

After a court sets child support, government agencies may enforce payment. A mother's lack of cooperation or violations of custody or visitation orders does not diminish or excuse the responsibility to timely pay support. Violations of a support order have serious legal consequences.

An attorney can help parents assert their rights and deal with the legal obstacles over paternity and custody. They can help them pursue these rights in court and in negotiations.

Source: The Spruce, "Things an unwed father needs to know," Wayne Parker, Jan. 31, 2018

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