Typically, the term “paternity” refers who identification of the father of a particular child. That is the context within which the term is utilized in this memo. If the mother of a child and a man are not married at the time the child is born, there are two avenues that lead to recognition of the man as the father of the child:
1) signing and filing of an acknowledgement of paternity or
2) entry of paternity court orders.
Acknowledgement Of Paternity
A man may execute an “acknowledgement of paternity” to declare himself as the father of the child. The acknowledgement is typically offered by hospital personnel to a mother shortly after the child is born. If the mother and father sign the document, the hospital staff sends it to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Austin and it is filed in the birth and death records maintained by the State of Texas. Although the man has some latitude to later deny that he is the father of the child, he must do so in a court proceeding and there are time limitations within which he must deny being the father of the child.
Paternity Court Orders
Either a mother or a father may file a suit requesting the court enter orders recognizing a man as the father of a child. If the suit is filed by a man, the judge will assume the man is the father of the child unless the mother challenges that claim and requests genetic tests. If the suit is filed by the child’s mother, the man may either admit that he is the father of the child or request that genetic testing be done to determine whether that is the case.
For many years, paternity determination was based on blood samples from the purported parents and blood typing percentages developed through genetic experiments. Today, DNA testing techniques have replaced the prior blood testing procedures and virtually eliminated any doubt concerning parentage of a child.
If either party requests genetic testing be done, the court will order the parties and the child to provide a blood sample and photographic identification at the testing agency office. After the testing is complete, the agency will file a report with the court. Because of the accuracy of DNA testing, the report will effectively either state the man is or is not the father of the child.
If the tests indicate the man is not the father of the child, the judge is obligated to dismiss the paternity suit. If the report states the man is the father of the child, the judge will enter orders requiring the man to pay child support and, if requested, allow the father periods of visitation time with the child. In addition to the assessment of future child support payments against the father, the judge may order retroactive child support payments be made and that prenatal and postnatal expenses be paid.
Retroactive Child Support
Texas law does not limit the time frame within which a paternity suit may be filed. Further, the law allows the court to assess retroactive child support against the father of child potentially reaching back to the date the child was born. Even if the monthly child support figure is a relatively modest sum, over a period of years the total figure becomes daunting.
In some instances, the mother of a child may elect not to seek paternity orders for a number of years. If, for example, the suit is filed when the child is 14 years old, the amount of retroactive child support that might be ordered paid by the father could be overwhelming. In recognition of that fact, the Family Code includes a presumption that retroactive child support orders reaching back no more than 4 years are proper in most cases.
Parentage suits involve more than the question of paternity. A man who is the parent of a child has the obligation to financially support the child but also has the right to spend time with the child and, to some degree, make decisions on behalf of the child.