I have seen it all to often’ unwed mothers left to sup- port their children on their own with no help from the biological fathers. Children who are supported by only one parent often do not have enough money for even basic needs. Children are entitled to financial support and other resources from both parents. The child’s mother and father each have the duty to financially and emotionally support his or her child. Each parents is presumed to possess the right to custody of the child or to visitation with the child. If the parents cannot agree, custody, child support and visitation can be decided by a court and both parties must obey the court order. In other words, a parent cannot refuse to pay support because the other parent is refusing visitation and vice versa. When a child is born, the mother’s name automatically appears on the birth certificate. If she is married, her husband is assumed to be the baby’s father. But if the parents are not married, under Texas law the child does not have a legal father. If the parents are not married, it is important for the mother, for the father, and above all for the child, to establish paternity, regardless of whether the parents stay together. Even if the parents stay together, the father could become disabled or die. In most cases, children born to unmarried parents can be assured of receiving certain benefits only if paternity has been established. If paternity has been established, your child will have the possible right of inheritance from both parents. The child may also be eligible for other benefits such as Social Security, medical insurance, life insurance and veteran’s benefits. Even if the parents are together once the child is born, without paternity, there is no provision for the possibility that the parents might separate in the future. If unmarried parents do separate and paternity has not been established, every member of the family is at risk, regardless of who takes the child. If the mother takes the child, she cannot get an order for child support without first establishing paternity, and the father has no standing to seek custody or visitation. If the father keeps the children, it is more difficult for him to obtain certain benefits if he is not the legal father. Paternity can be voluntarily established by agreement of both the mother and father of the child. The parents can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity which becomes a legal finding of paternity. If either the mother or alleged father is not sure about the paternity of the child, paternity can be contested and testing can be ordered to identify the father. After the father and mother have signed the Acknowledgment of Paternity, the biological father becomes the legal father. This means that he has parental rights and responsibilities just like the mother. If the parents separate, either parent has the right to seek custody of the child and both are responsible for providing financial support for the child. The parent with custody can get a court order for the payment of child support, and the non-custodial parent can seek a court order for visitation. Many times, the mother is not sure who the father is. In this situation, the mother needs to first consider who may have fathered the child. It is very important for the mother to determine as much information as she can to help determine the father’s identity. If necessary, a DNA test can be used to identify the biological father. Sometimes a pregnancy is unplanned. Texas law says that regardless of whether or not the child was planned, both parents are responsible for supporting their children. Just as the mother is responsible for the child even if the pregnancy was not planned, so is the father. This means that once the court determines the identity of the biological father, the man must pay to help support his child. Even if the father is a minor, the father is still legally required to support the child. And it makes no difference if the minor father is still in school. The judge will look at a young parent’s income while he or she is still in school and decide how much support must be paid. And the non-custodial parent’s income can be reviewed again after he or she has finished school and begins working. The judge will decide what changes need to be made in the child support payment. If the father does not believe the child is his, he can ask for paternity testing. A court will examine the results of the paternity test and then decide whether the alleged father is the biological father. This ruling will be final. If the child’s non-custodial parent lives in another state, the parent with custody of the child is still entitled to child support. The law requires states to cooperate with each other. The non-custodial parent is legally required to make regular child support payments, no matter where he or she lives. Establishing paternity, or who is the legal father of the child, is very important for a child. Under Texas law, a child born to parents who are not married has no legal father. Every baby needs and deserves emotional and financial support and care from two parents. Even though your child may be well provided for now, there may be a time in the future when your child would benefit from having a legal father. Not only can a baby’s father provide financial support, but he can also provide health insurance. He is also responsible for helping to pay medical bills for the baby’s delivery and other health care costs. If paternity has been established, the child has the possible right of inheritance from both parents. Courtesy of the Office of the Attorney General.