The Texas Family Code provides explicit guidance regarding the termination of parental rights in the state. The establishment of the Paternity Registry in 1997 encourages men to be financially responsible for children born out of wedlock or risk the termination of their rights. Termination of a father’s parental rights in Texas is irrevocable.
When Rights are Terminated
The termination or severing of parental rights is permanent. It can be voluntary or involuntary. The Texas Family Code Chapter 161, Title 5 outlines the situations in which parental rights can be involuntarily terminated. They include abandonment of the child, incapacity to care for the child because of drug or alcohol use, endangering the well-being of the child, an inability to properly care for the child due to incarceration, an inability to locate the biological father despite making an attempt by searching the paternity registry, and failure to support the child.
The rights of an alleged biological father can also be terminated if he fails to register with the Texas Paternity Registry or if he doesn’t respond to a court's notice of termination of parental rights by filing a counterclaim or an admission of paternity.
Involuntary Termination of Rights
The termination of a father’s parental rights is necessary before an adoption can be made final. In Texas, a biological father who is not married to a child’s mother needs to register his name on a Paternity Registry within 31 days of the child’s birth to prevent the state from involuntarily terminating his rights. If he fails to do so, the Texas Family Code Section 160.402 provides that the father does not have to be notified by the vital statistics unit of the Attorney General's child support division as to whether his child is adopted or his rights are terminated.
Claiming Paternity Proactively
The Paternity Registry in Texas is generally unknown to people outside of the legal profession. According to the Texas Family Code, a father’s rights to his out-of-wedlock child can be terminated even if he is cohabiting with and supporting the mother. It’s crucial that any unwed father who wants a role in his child’s life file a “Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity."
Terminating Rights and Child Support
Many people believe that a biological father can voluntarily terminate his paternal rights and avoid paying child support. That is untrue because there are specific criteria involved in terminating rights, either voluntarily or involuntarily. The criteria are set forth in the Texas Code, and terminating to avoid paying support is not one of them. Unless a step-parent or another entity legally adopts the child, a legally acknowledged biological father must pay child support.
DNA and the Paternity Registry
DNA testing has led to new scenarios that stretch the limitations of current laws and has forced the Texas Family Code to adapt. For example, a baby in Texas is legally considered to be the child of the man to whom the biological mother is married. Before paternity testing became available and reliable, that law helped protect women and children alike. In today’s society, it introduces new difficulties into paternity suits and adoption proceedings because an alleged biological father has rights and can place his name on the paternity registry and sue for custody of a child.