In the state of Texas, the process of naming a father on the birth certificate is an important way of ensuring the child receives care and financial support from two parents. Without genetic testing, however, a situation might arise in which the man ends up raising a child who is not biologically his. In Texas, a man who has signed an acknowledgement of paternity may terminate his parental rights if it turns out he's supporting another man's child. In theory, there may be consequences for the mother but these are rarely enforced, unless the mother has actually falsified a document.
Understanding Texas Paternity Laws
Under Texas law, when a child is born during marriage, the husband is legally the child's father. His name will automatically appear on the child's birth certificate. A child born to a man and woman who are not married has no legal father. To establish parental rights, the father must sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity. This document establishes the father-child relationship, allows the father's name to appear on the birth certificate and stands as evidence in cases of child support. It's possible to sign an AOP at any point, even before the baby is born.
Read More: Laws on False Paternity
When the Father is Not the Father
It is possible, of course, that a man will sign an AOP in the mistaken belief that the child is his. Situations in which the mother misrepresents paternity are known as paternity fraud. This might happen because of an honest mistake, or because the mother has deliberately misrepresented paternity to get the child support she needs. Sometimes a man willingly accepts paternity and pays child support for many years before he realizes that the child is not his.
How to Remove Parental Rights From a Non-biological Father
In Texas, men who suspect they are not the child's biological father can petition the court requesting the parent-child relationship be terminated. The petition must be filed within one year after the man becomes aware that he may not be the father. Upon receipt of the petition, the court will order the false father and the child to undergo DNA testing through an accredited laboratory. If paternity testing shows the man is not the biological father, the court must immediately terminate the parent-child relationship.
Birth Certificate Fraud Penalty
While paternity "fraud" sounds like it must be a crime, mothers are not actually convicted under the paternity fraud laws. The main thrust of the legislation is to terminate the man's obligation to make child support payments when paternity is not established. Even then, it's only the obligation to pay future child support that's terminated. The legislation does not entitle the man to be reimbursed for child support payments he has already made.
Penalty for Falsifying Information
Falsifying documents is different from paternity fraud. This happens when someone changes, alters or tampers with a document with the intention of deceiving another person. In the context of paternity, a crime would be committed if the mother deliberately forged the man's signature on the AOP. The penalty for falsifying government documents is severe. The perpetrator can expect to pay a fine between $4,000 and $10,000 and might face 10 years' prison time, depending on the extent of the fraud.
In Texas, there typically is no penalty for a mother who deliberately or accidentally misrepresents a child's paternity. Non-biological fathers can petition the court for termination of their parental rights.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts.