Fathers often worry that they don’t have the same rights to time with and custody of their children that mothers do. While courts were once more likely to award custody to mothers, believing that mothers were the parents more capable of nurturing children, both the culture and the laws have changed to keep up with modern times. Texas law is meant to be gender neutral in matters of custody, meaning that fathers have the same rights as mothers to raise their children. However, a lack of established legal paternity can complicate matters, and it also doesn’t help when fathers don’t know what their rights are or how to assert them. Take a look at some things that you need to know about your rights as a father in Texas.
Fathers are legally considered to be the fathers of children born within a marriage. But if you were never married to the mother of your child, you may not be considered your child’s legal parent. Even if you’re listed on the birth certificate as your child’s father, you may still not have legal paternity. So, if you’re interested in pursuing a legal custody or visitation arrangement with your child, your first step is to establish legal paternity.
If the mother agrees that you are the child’s father, then establishing a paternity case can be easy. You can file a paternity case and both of you can sign an order that establishes paternity. If the mother disputes your paternity claim, you can still file the paternity case, but in that case, a DNA test will be ordered to show whether you actually are the father of the child. If the DNA test results back up your paternity claim, the court will legally name you the father.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
Legal custody and physical custody are two different things. If your child’s other parent was awarded physical custody after the divorce, or if you’ve separated and your child’s other parent has informal physical custody, you can still file for legal custody. You can do this even if you don’t intend to ask for physical custody.
Legal custody gives you the right to make important decisions on behalf of your child. It gives you the right to choose your child’s school or to make medical decisions that your child isn’t old enough to make. In many cases, parents share legal custody, no matter who the child actually lives with. Even if you’re happy for your child to remain living with their other parent, filing for legal custody gives you the right to have input on important matters that affect your child, so it’s worth considering even in cases when you’re not interested in disputing the current living arrangements.
The Best Interests of the Child
Whether you’re petitioning the court for joint custody, physical custody, or legal custody, it helps to understand what the family courts in Texas are looking for. Texas family courts follow the best interests of the child standard. That means that family courts aren’t necessarily trying to come up with the arrangement that’s most fair to both parents, they’re trying to come up with the arrangement that’s in the child’s best interest, whether or not the parents see it as fair.
In a divorce, courts will do their best to split money and assets in a way that is fair to both parties. But a child isn’t a house that can be sold and the money divided evenly. Sometimes what is best for the child may not be a completely even split. For example, most judges won’t split up siblings unless there’s a very compelling reason to do so, because giving one sibling to each parent often isn’t what’s best for the children themselves. Children who are old enough to attend school need consistency in their education, so it may be impossible to evenly split parenting time between two parents who live in different school districts. The child will need to be in one district most of the time during the school year so that they can attend regularly and receive a consistent education.
It’s also usually considered to be in the best interests of the child for the child to have a relationship with both parents. That means that it’s worth going to court and fighting for the right to be included in your child’s life, even if you don’t necessarily wind up with the exact custody split or visitation schedule that you wanted. It’s also worth making the effort to co-parent peacefully with your child’s other parent so that it’s easier for everyone to share time and make parenting decisions together.
If you need to establish paternity or seek custody or visitation, it helps to know the legal procedures and requirements of the family court. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you learn your rights, correctly complete the forms that you’ll need to submit to the court, and prepare to speak on your own behalf in family court in order to assert your rights as a father in Texas. You don’t necessarily need an attorney to establish custody or to get a custody or visitation order, but you do need preparation to handle the legal aspects of the procedure