Child custody laws in Texas can be complex. For example, Chapter 153 of the Family Code alone has over 22,000 words.
Furthermore, each family’s circumstances are unique, and one element that can complicate matters is when an unmarried couple splits up. Therefore, unmarried mothers and fathers need to know their rights regarding child custody.
Parental rights for unmarried mothers in Texas
In situations with unmarried parents, the birth mother automatically receives both physical and legal custody of the child. This means that the mother has the right to physical possession of the child and the authority to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, such as education, healthcare and religious matters.
Unmarried mothers retain sole conservatorship over the child, even if the parents are in a relationship. This means that the mother has the exclusive right to determine where the child lives and make decisions on behalf of the child without the father’s input or consent.
However, an unmarried mother may still want to establish paternity. This step can ensure the official recognition and involvement of the child’s father.
Rights and responsibilities of unmarried fathers in Texas
Unlike unmarried mothers, unmarried fathers in Texas do not have automatic parental rights over their children. As such, an unmarried father must take specific legal steps to establish paternity and obtain legal rights to his child. Simply having the father’s name on the birth certificate is not enough to grant these parental rights.
To establish paternity, an unmarried father has two main options. First, he could file an Acknowledgment of Paternity form with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit. An AOP form is a legal document that both the mother and father voluntarily sign to acknowledge the father’s paternity.
Otherwise, he needs to obtain a DNA test. If there is a paternity dispute, either the mother or the alleged father can file a paternity suit. The court may then order a DNA test to determine biological parentage.
Only after establishing paternity can an unmarried father petition the court for custody rights and visitation. Before doing so, he cannot intervene in the mother’s decision-making process or enforce any visitation rights.
Custody options for unmarried parents in Texas
Each parent can protect custody rights by obtaining a comprehensive court order that addresses all the necessary aspects of custody. These aspects should include:
- Rights and duties
- Possession and access
- Geographic restrictions
Unmarried parents in particular should consider the importance of a legally binding child custody arrangement to protect their rights and ensure the best interests of the child. Even if the parents are in agreement and have a positive co-parenting relationship, a formal court order provides clarity and enforceability.