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Child Custody for Unmarried Parents in Texas

Families come in all shapes and sizes, which is why Texas has laws to address different family circumstances. This includes situations where unmarried parents have children. Because child custody is handled differently in cases involving divorcing parents, unmarried parents who wish to confirm custody rights (conservatorship), possession of and access to the child, child support, and geographic restrictions must navigate different legal pathways – such as establishing paternity and filing a lawsuit with the court called a Suit Affecting Parent Child Relationship (SAPCR).

Presumption of Fatherhood, Paternity & SAPCR

In general, when a child is born to a married couple, Texas presumes the husband to be the father. In cases where parents are not married, the child does not have a legal father unless paternity is established. This can be done through:

  • Both parents voluntarily signing an acknowledgement of paternity (AOP); or
  • Through legal action called a “petition to adjudicate parentage” and issuance of a court order establishing the parent-child relationship between father and the child

Voluntarily establishing paternity works when both unmarried parents wish to work together to maintain an active role in their child’s life. However, a mother or alleged father may dispute or deny paternity. This can take the form of:

  • An alleged father disputing and/or denying his legal relationship and responsibility for a child;
  • An alleged father wanting to assert his rights as a father; OR
  • A mother who claims or disputes a man’s status as the legal father of her child.

In any situation where paternity is disputed, paternity can be established involuntary through court proceedings and the filing of a petition to adjudicate parentage. Such a petition may be resolved when:

  • A father appears in court and openly states that he is the father; OR
  • Court ordered genetic testing confirming the alleged father is in fact the biological father of the child.

In many cases, adjudication of parentage is initiated through the filing of a Suit Affecting Parent Child Relationship (SAPCR).

Custody Rights and custody schedules

When paternity is established, parents can work to negotiate custody and parenting arrangements that fit their unique schedules. Arriving at amicable resolutions can be beneficial for both parties, and can be achieved through the help of attorneys who can craft creative parenting schedules, negotiate special visitation arrangements, and facilitate mutually agreeable resolutions.

If parents cannot agree to a custody schedule, the court may refer to the Standard Possession Order (SPO). This is in general the default visitation schedule for parents that is commonly used in possession and access suits. These matters, like any family law matter involving a child, will focus on the best interests of the child and the willingness and ability of the parents to provide the care the child needs.

Typical Parental rights and obligations for both parents unless ruled otherwise in Family Court:

  • The right to spend time with your child and have frequent, ongoing contact with him or her
  • The right to be able to act as a parent to your child and share in your child's upbringing
  • The right to be involved in making major decisions that affect your child's life, such as medical care
  • Right to receive information from any other conservator of the child concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;
  • Right to medical, dental, psychological, and educational records of the child;
  • Access to consult with school officials concerning the child's welfare and educational status, including school activities;
  • Access to attend school activities;
  • The duty to provide for your child's physical, financial, and emotional needs

At Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C., our Houston family lawyers have extensive experience handling matters of child custody for unmarried parents, including both mothers and fathers. If you are looking to gain custody of your child, or assert your rights to possession and access (parenting time), our legal team has the experience and resources to guide you step-by-step through the process and protect your rights and interests.