A common concern for many men who have children is this: if they are not married, do they also not have rights with respect to their children? In a word, no. Even if they sign the baby’s birth certificate, unmarried fathers have zero parental rights in Texas. They have no inherent right of to access to their children.

The mother unilaterally decides when, and indeed if, visitation is possible. Unmarried fathers also have no right to attend athletic contests, piano recitals, or any other such events. Theoretically, the sponsoring entities could prevent unmarried fathers from walking through the door.

A partnership with a parental rights lawyer in Dallas changes everything for fathers. A suit affecting parent-child relationships (SAPCR, or paternity suit), establishes ground rules for shared parenting time. These orders also give unmarried fathers other legal rights, such as the right to discipline their children at certain times, the right to possibly make and to participate in meaningful decisions, such as where the child will attend school and who will be the child’s attending physician. SAPCRs also have benefits for mothers.

Benefits of a Paternity Action

Usually, a signature on a birth certificate creates an administrative relationship. This relationship is limited to child support matters in most cases. That’s better than nothing, but it’s not much better than nothing.

SAPCRs, on the other hand, establish visitation schedules. These schedules are enforceable in court. Typically, a court will order a schedule similar to every other weekend with alternating holidays. Others are available as well. Block scheduling is a good illustration.

The traditional arrangement sometimes feels like a juggling act. A block scheduling division is two weeks with Parent A followed by two weeks with Parent B. For the most part, this predictable and easy to manage schedule stays in place twelve months a year.

Additionally, SAPCRs include the right to attend certain events, like the ones mentioned above. Furthermore, SAPCRs give unmarried fathers the right to receive scheduling emails and other notifications about these events.

Paternity actions don’t just have short-term legal benefits. There are long-term benefits as well. If something happens to the mother, only a legal parent has custody rights, at least in most cases. On a related note, if a father would like to have his children live with him someday, only a SAPCR lays the proper foundation.

We haven’t forgotten about paternity actions and their benefits for mothers. SAPCRs usually include child support orders. Additionally, these judgments often also include other financial provisions, like reimbursement for hospital bills. If a protective order is appropriate, the SAPCR usually contains that as well.

What to Expect in a SAPCR

Genetic paternity is usually not an issue in SAPCRs. In the unlikely event one parent challenges paternity, a non-invasive DNA swab is almost entirely conclusive.

The parenting time could be an issue. That’s especially true if the child is very young, such as under 2 years old, and the unmarried father has little experience with babies. In these situations, the court often orders a stair-step visitation. At first, fathers and children only spend a few hours a week together, usually in supervised environments. Gradually over one to three years, visitation increases to a roughly equal level.

The child’s age is not the only factor that determines the amount of visitation in these cases. Other factors include:

  • Parents’ preferences
  • Child’s preference
  • Current informal visitation arrangement
  • A parent’s physical, emotional, behavioral, or other disability
  • Verified allegations of domestic abuse
  • Child’s current living environment

If the parents are unable to agree on a parenting time schedule, a court-appointed social worker can investigate the case and makes a recommendation to the judge.

Reach Out to a Diligent Dallas County Parental Rights Lawyer

Unmarried fathers only have legal rights if they take legal action. For a confidential consultation with an experienced parental rights lawyer in Dallas, contact Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP by calling (214) 273-2400. Virtual, home and after-hours visits are available.

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