Families come in all shapes and sizes, so Texas has made changes to its laws to accommodate a broader definition of family units. No longer is it a given that the mother gets custody of the children after filing for divorce, nor do all parents need to marry to have legal rights. Because the circumstances involving each case may be different, a different approach is needed. Unmarried parents who wish to establish custody rights, visitation rights, child support, or even geographic restrictions will need to be proactive.
Actions to consider if parents have a cooperative relationship:
The two parents may either be in a committed monogamous relationship or have a healthy relationship where they are committed to raising the child or several children together. If this is the case, some relatively straightforward actions can take place, including the following:
Put both parents' names on the birth certificate. This, raises the legal presumptions of parental rights for the father and mother. Establishing legal rights enables the child to receive government benefits, pensions and other entitlements.
Pick a name that establishes the family unit. This can help establish or announce the bond of a family unit regardless of marriage.
Parents need to agree upon who claims the child as a dependent if each supports the child.
If the parents split up, they can retain their rights as long as they continue to fulfill their parental duties, and support and exercise their visitation rights. The terms of these duties and expectations should be set down in a written agreement which should then be adopted as the Order of the Court. If they do not fulfill their duties and remain active in the life of the child, the court can terminate parental rights.
What if the parents cannot agree?
Biological parents who are not legal parents may need to take legal actions, including establishing paternity by filing a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR). In a dispute with the mother, the alleged father may seek to establish or deny paternity. This can be established involuntarily or voluntarily through the courts by filing a petition to adjudicate parentage. This may involve a court-ordered genetic test or the father appearing in court and stating he is the father.
An experienced Board-certified Family Law expert attorney in Collin County, Dallas County, Denton County or elsewhere throughout Texas can work with the parents to help establish the parental rights of the father. Either through mediation or litigation, such a Family Law expert attorney can also work with the client to establish a workable parenting plan that addresses the best interests of the child or children while also considering the needs and obligations of the parent.