When a married couple gives birth in Texas, the woman’s husband automatically becomes the legal father and retains parental rights even if they divorce. If an unmarried couple has a baby, the father must take action to have the legal right to visitation and/or custody.

If you are in the latter situation, take these steps to ensure a lifelong connection with your baby.

Establishing paternity

When both parents agree to the father’s identity, they can sign the state’s Acknowledgement of Paternity form. This document is available from the Texas Vital Statistics Unit, at the hospital at the time of birth and at the Office of the Attorney General. Once both parents sign the form and submit it to Vital Statistics, the agency will add you to the child’s birth certificate and declare you as the legal father.

If either you or the child’s mother has doubts as to whether you are the father, or if the mother refuses to sign the form acknowledging paternity, you can request an involuntary paternity acknowledgment. Visit the county court where your child lives and file the Petition to Adjudicate Paternity. If either the mother or child receives public assistance, the state may take this step on your behalf.

The court will schedule a hearing and order that you take a DNA paternity test. If the results prove you are the father, the court will add your name to the birth certificate.

Requesting custody or visitation

After establishing legal paternity, you can ask the court to award you partial custody or visitation with your child. Texas refers to custody and visitation as conservatorship. You must ask the county court to open a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, which requires forms that detail your parenting time requests. When the other parent agrees, you can file these documents with the court to create a legal parenting agreement.

When the other parent does not respond to the SAPCR or contests your request, the court will schedule a hearing within 45 days. At this session, you may present evidence to show that a relationship with you serves your child’s best interests.