Paternity is defined as a child's legal father. This is different from biological fatherhood, which is presumed when the parents are married. Establishing paternity is an extra step unmarried fathers should take because it grants you and your child specific rights. The easiest way to do this is for both parents to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity document; in other cases, a court order and DNA testing can establish paternity.
Why should you go to the trouble if you don't plan to marry the child's mother? There's no shortage of evidence that children benefit emotionally by having both parents involved in their lives, and courts in Texas recognize this. Legal paternity opens the door to a number of benefits that not only allow fathers' participation in a child's life but an active role in parenting.
For fathers, paternity means that your name is listed on the birth certificate. It gives you the legal right to care for your child, and is a requirement before you can request child support, custody or visitation with the child. Paternity also allows you access to the child's medical, dental and school records. Finally, it can prevent the child's adoption into another family?a critical outcome for many unwed fathers.
Unwed fathers aren't the only ones who gain when paternity is legally designated. Paternity is required should mothers approach the court for child support, custody or visitation orders. Whether the parents' relationship is equanimous or not, mothers can ensure that the father's participation is enforceable throughout the child's life.
The child of unwed parents arguably benefits most from the establishment of paternity. Both parents become legally bound to provide for the child and oversee his or her growth and development. Aside from the emotional good that comes from both parents' investment in a child, he or she also may be able to gain access to certain benefits of the father. Specifically, paternity could help establish the child's eligibility for the father's medical insurance, Social Security, inheritance and veteran's benefits.
Establishing paternity offers distinct advantages to you because it legally grants you the opportunity to help raise the child. If you're an unwed father or are about to be, a consultation with a knowledgeable family law attorney can help you understand the steps you need to take.