Establishing Paternity

Establishing Paternity is Important

Why should we establish paternity for our baby?

  • Under Texas law, a child born to a man and woman who are not married has no legal father. There is a difference between a biological father and a legal father. When the child's parents complete an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) to establish legal fatherhood, this helps to secure the legal rights of the child.
  • Courts cannot order a father to pay child support until paternity is established.
  • The father cannot enforce his right to visitation or possession of the child until paternity is established.
  • The father may be able to provide health insurance, or other benefits, for the child.
  • The child may be able to receive money through a government program. In many cases the child may be eligible for Social Security, veteran's benefits, health care, or other government benefits.
  • Children can be born with diseases or disorders inherited from their parents. Sometimes doctors can tell at the time of birth if a baby has any inherited diseases or disorders. But other times health problems appear later in a child's life. Either way, it helps the doctors to know how to treat a child if they know the family medical history of both the mother and the father.
  • It's tough growing up today. Your child will have an easier time just by knowing the identity of his or her father.

Acknowledging Paternity at the Time of Birth

What does it mean to "acknowledge paternity"?

Paternity means fatherhood. When both parents sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity and it is filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics, the biological father becomes the legal father. Once paternity has been established, the father's name is placed on the birth certificate. A court can order him to pay child support and grant him the right to visitation or possession of his child.

Why should paternity be acknowledged at the time of birth?

There are two main reasons. First, this is the most convenient time. Everything is together in one place. The necessary forms are available at hospitals in Texas. The father is likely to be with the mother at the hospital when the baby is born. The parents don't have to worry about mailing the forms; the hospital will make sure that everything is sent to the right place. And the father's name will be added to the birth certificate at no cost. Second, it's the best time for the baby. The earlier in the baby's life paternity is established, the more secure his or her future will be.

How is it done?

It's simple. An AOP can be obtained from the hospital, usually from the birth registrar in Medical Records. The father and mother sign the form, and the hospital staff send the AOP to the Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS), where it is filed.

Will signing the Acknowledgment of Paternity make a person the legal father?

Yes, when the mother and father both sign the AOP, the biological father becomes the legal father once the AOP is filed at the BVS.

What if the mother is married to someone else or the baby was born within 300 days of the date of her divorce?

If the mother is married to someone other than the biological father or the baby is born within 300 days of her divorce from a man who is not the biological father, the husband must sign a Denial of Paternity. The biological father cannot become the legal father by signing the AOP until the husband signs the Denial of Paternity, which is part of the AOP form. If the husband does not sign the Denial, either biological parent can open a case with the Attorney General or go to an attorney to establish paternity through the courts.

What if one or both parents change their mind after they have signed the AOP and it has been filed at BVS?

Anyone who signed the AOP may file a petition to rescind it. The petition must be filed in court within the first 60 days after the AOP has been filed with BVS or before the first court hearing, whichever is earlier.

Where can we get an AOP form?

AOP forms are available at the hospital, the local birth registrar, the Attorney General's Child Support Office, and the Bureau of Vital Statistics, which can be reached at (512) 458-7111.

What if the father wants to sign the AOP but cannot come to the hospital?

Sometimes the parents are not able to do everything necessary to acknowledge paternity while the mother and baby are still at the hospital, or the father cannot come to the hospital. When this happens, the parents can sign the AOP before the baby is born, and the mother can bring the AOP to the hospital at the time of birth. She can also take one home after the birth. The father must take the AOP to a Child Support Office, the local registry, or another certified entity to receive information on his rights and responsibilities. When the AOP is complete, it must be mailed to:

    Bureau of Vital Statistics
    1100 W. 49th Street
    Austin, TX 78756-3191

What if the father does not want to acknowledge paternity?

The mother should contact an attorney or the Office of the Attorney General. The Office of the Attorney General will open a child support case for her. It is important that the mother complete an application with the Office of the Attorney General, providing as much information as possible. Information about the father, such as a Social Security number, place of employment, and an address, makes it easier to locate him. If the mother is on public assistance, her case will be automatically referred to the Office of the Attorney General by the Texas Department of Human Services.

What if the father thinks that the child is his, but the mother won't sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity with him?

The father can come to the Office of the Attorney General and open a case, or he can consult a private attorney. It is important that the father complete an application with the Office of the Attorney General providing as much information as possible. Information about the mother, such as a Social Security number, place of employment, and an address, makes it easier to locate her.

What if the father does not believe the child is his?

He can ask for paternity testing. A court will look at the results of the paternity test and at other evidence that would link the father to the child.

Who pays for paternity tests?

There is no charge for paternity testing.

Other Questions

What if the custodial parent is receiving, or wants to receive, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits?

When a custodial parent applies for TANF benefits, he or she will automatically receive child support and paternity establishment services through the Office of the Attorney General. If a parent is receiving TANF, the law requires him or her to cooperate with the Office of the Attorney General.

How does paternity establishment affect custody and visitation?

Each parent has the duty to financially and emotionally support his or her child. Each parent has the right to visitation, except under exceptional circumstances. Child support and visitation will be ordered by a court. Both parents must obey the court order-a parent cannot refuse to pay child support because the other parent is refusing visitation, and vice versa.

Should parents establish paternity if they are getting along and the father is helping support the child?

Yes. Even if the father agrees to help support the child now, he may change his mind, become disabled, or even die. In most cases, unmarried parents can get benefits for their child only if they establish paternity for the child.

If You Need More Help

If you have questions about establishing paternity, please call the Office of the Attorney General's Paternity Opportunity Program at (866) 255-2006. For more information about child support services or establishing paternity, please call the Attorney General's Child Support Regional Call Centers or call (800) 252-8014 for the phone number of the child support office nearest you.

Contact Information

By U.S. Mail

    Office of the Attorney General
    Child Support Division
    P.O. Box 12017
    Austin, TX 78711-2017

On the Internet

By Telephone

Regional Call Centers and Administrative Offices:

    Harris County: (713) 243-7100
    Dallas/Tarrant County: (972) 339-3100
    Bexar County: (210) 841-8450
    Travis County: (512) 514-7000
    Lubbock: (806) 765-0094
    McAllen: (956) 682-5581
    Tyler: (903) 595-6900
    El Paso: (915) 779-2388

24 Hour Payment and case status information: (800) 252-8014

For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: (800) 572-2686 (TTY) or (512) 460-6417 (TTY)


Revised: March 01 2012