Texas families come in many forms. According to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 40 percent of the children born in Texas in 2016 were born to unmarried parents —  this is a rate that is slightly higher than the national average. For many unmarried parents, there are some unique challenges that must be dealt with in child custody cases. This is especially true for unmarried fathers.

While unmarried fathers have the same rights as the child’s mother, there are some additional obstacles that can stand in the way. All Texas fathers need to be ready to take action to protect their parental rights and the health and well-being of their children. Here, our top-rated Austin child custody lawyer provides an overview of the most important things that unmarried Texas fathers need to know about child custody cases.

Unmarried Fathers’ Rights: Custody and Visitation

You Must Establish Paternity

When a married couple has a child, both the mother and the father will automatically receive full parental rights. No further action needs to be taken by either party. The married man is assumed to be the father. However, for unmarried couples, the situation is different. Unmarried fathers do not get automatic child custody rights. These fathers must take proactive steps to prove paternity. In Texas, there are two basic ways to establish paternity:

  1. Voluntary Acknowledgement: Unmarried parents do not necessarily need to get the court involved. Instead, they can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form and submit it to the state of Texas. If there is no dispute over parentage, this is generally the best option.
  2. Legal Action (Paternity By Court Order): Of course, when a mother is trying to deny a man custody rights, she may deny that he is the father at all. In this type of case, the father needs to take legal action to establish paternity. Under Texas law, both men and women have the right to file a paternity lawsuit. An unmarried father may be able to get a family court to order genetic testing so that he can prove his paternity.

Paternity is essential. Without legal paternity, unmarried fathers will have no access to child custody or child visitation rights. In fact, they will have no parental rights whatsoever. When dealing with child custody for unmarried fathers, establishing paternity always comes first. If you are involved in a paternity dispute, you should speak to an experienced Texas child custody lawyer immediately.

The Laws are Gender Neutral — But Bias Remains

In Texas, the child custody laws must be applied in a gender neutral manner. This was not always the case. In decades past, courts could explicitly favor mothers in custody cases. Though, in the late 1970s the Supreme Court of the United States struck down an Alabama state statute that prevented men from obtaining alimony from their wives (Orr v. Orr). The nation’s highest court ruled that this state law — and others like it — violated the Equal Protection Clause contained within the Fourteenth Amendment. Family law statutes must be gender neutral.

What does this mean for you?

It means that Texas law does not technically favor mothers in child custody cases. Fathers have equal rights. Of course, the real world is more complicated than that. Child custody cases are decided by the human beings who are tasked with applying these laws.

While fathers technically have the same rights as mothers, there are still some (often subconscious) biases in the system. For this and other reasons, it is crucial that unmarried fathers take proactive measures to protect their parental rights. If you are an unmarried father who is going through any type of child-related dispute, you should be ready to seek help from an experienced Austin family lawyer who can help you establish paternity and protect your custody and visitation rights.

Contact Our Austin Child Custody Attorney Today

At the Law Office of Ben Carrasco PLLC, we have extensive experience representing unmarried fathers in child custody claims. To learn more about our family law services,  please do not hesitate to contact our legal team. Consultations are fully private. From our office in Austin, we represent fathers throughout Travis County.

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