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There's no child custody plan; should I worry about paternity?

No two families in Texas are alike. Each has its own needs that must be addressed, from getting married to filing for divorce, creating child custody arrangements and even establishing paternity. Paternity is especially important for unmarried parents -- especially fathers -- as private agreements made solely between parents are usually not legally binding, and cannot be enforced by the family law courts.

Without established paternity, fathers are often unable to gain visitation and custody rights to their children. Once paternity has been determined, a father can usually secure access to his child through a court-ordered child custody plan. He will also likely be ordered to pay child support, as children have the legal right to financial support from both parents, regardless of their marital status.

Since paternity affords legal protections to both the father and his child, establishing it in a timely manner is usually a good idea. Voluntary assumed paternity is when both parents agree on who the father is, and the parents may either be married or unmarried. Unmarried parents can sign certain documents -- including legitimation forms or voluntary acknowledgement of paternity -- to establish who the child's legal father is, although there are several other options for voluntarily establishing paternity.

At times, individuals might be at odds as to whether a man is a child's father. Either party may bring this matter before the court, where a DNA test will more than likely be ordered. The results of the DNA test can then be used to establish paternity.

Whether established involuntarily or through voluntary means, paternity is an important legal status. Both fathers and mothers benefit from the protections afforded by paternity, including child custody plans and financial support from another parent. Perhaps most importantly, these protections can help ensure that Texas children are provided for by both of their parents.

Source: FindLaw, "Legal Significance of Paternity", Accessed on Nov. 7, 2017

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