Years ago, the mother was the parent who essentially had all the rights if a couple separated. The mother was granted automatic custody, and the father had little say in the matter. But that’s changed; today, the courts understand the valuable roles fathers play in their children’s lives beyond financial support. In recent years, Texas laws have changed to support the idea that parental rights should be gender-neutral and based entirely on the child’s best interests. Here’s what you should know about fathers’ rights in Texas.

How Is Paternity Established in Texas?

In terms of what rights a father has, the first thing that must be done is to establish the child’s paternity. A father is eligible for parental rights in Texas if paternity has been established.

Paternity is automatically established if:

  • The father was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.
  • The father was married to the mother for 300 days prior to the child’s birth.

What Happens if I Wasn’t Married to the Mother When My Child Was Born?

In Texas, paternity isn’t recognized if a couple was unmarried at the time of the child’s birth. It must legally be established in order for the father to have his name added to the birth certificate and have any legal rights to the child. There are two ways to approach that.

  • Paternity test. This can be done voluntarily, such as when a father wants to prove his paternity, or the court may order it if the mother asks for it but the named father denies it. The test is simple and takes between 4-6 weeks for results to arrive. Once the test confirms the paternity, the Attorney General can finalize assigning the father paternity and make them eligible for fathers’ rights.
  • Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). An AOP is a legal affirmation of paternity done through the Attorney General’s office. They can file together if the couple isn’t married but agree on who the father is. Both parents must agree. Otherwise, they’ll likely need a paternity test instead.

Once Paternity Is Established, What Custody Rights Do Fathers Have in Texas?

After the father establishes paternity, they are entitled to a variety of rights when it comes to their children. Being entitled to those rights doesn’t guarantee that someone will have all of them, especially if something like physical custody is contested. Because each case is unique, it’s vital to have an experienced family law attorney working with you to help guide you through the complexities of your case.

One of the most significant rights is custody, but there are different types of custody in Texas, and it’s important to know what they are. First, there are two distinct categories of custody: Physical and legal.

  • Physical custody. As the term implies, this means which parent the child lives with.
  • Legal custody. This refers not to where the child lives but whether or not the father is entitled to be involved in major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, such as their education, religious upbringing if applicable, medical and health care, and extracurricular activities, among others. This doesn’t involve the little daily decisions, such as which friend they’ll play with after school, but instead focuses on the more significant decisions.

With those two in mind, there are different approaches Texas courts will take depending on the case.

  • Sole custody. In this case, one parent is assigned full physical and legal custody. The child will not live with the other parent at all, nor will the other parent have the right to make chid-raising decisions.
  • Joint custody. There are three categories of joint custody in Texas.
  • Joint physical custody. The child spends time living with each parent. Texas leans toward this whenever it’s feasible and when it appears to be in the child’s best interests. The courts understand the importance of having both parents present in the child’s life. A major exception is for cases involving domestic abuse or assault.
  • Joint legal custody. Both parents are involved in decision-making, but the child lives with one parent only.
  • Split custody. This happens when multiple children are in the family, and one parent has sole physical custody of one or more, but at least one child resides full-time with the other parent.

Note that joint physical and legal custody is also possible.

What Other Rights Do Fathers Have?

If one parent is granted sole physical custody of the child, the father who doesn’t have physical custody can still have legal custody. They may also have the right to visitation. For example, if the father has to travel extensively for work, it may make the most sense for the child to live full-time with the mother. But the father could then have visitation rights for when they’re in town, and they can also have the right to set up regular phone or video chats.

If the father is going to be the full custodian of the child, they have the right to request child support from the other parent.

What Should I Do if I Need to Protect My Rights as a Father?

Call the Cutrer Law Group at 817-813-8513 for a free case evaluation. Fathers do have rights in Texas, although it’s more complicated if the parents aren’t married. We can help determine the best approach for your case to ensure your rights as a father are protected and enforced. Call us today because the sooner we start, the more time we have to build a strong case.