Weekly AG Newspaper Columns
Establishing Paternity At Birth Gives Children A Good Start
Establishing Paternity at Birth Gives Children a Good Start
By Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
The birth of a child is one of the most joyous events in a coupleís life. For unmarried couples, that life-changing experience carries an added responsibility Ė establishing paternity for their child.
Establishing paternity is one of the most important jobs the Attorney Generalís Child Support Division performs, because it guarantees a legal relationship between a father and his child. Under Texas law, a child born to a man and woman who are not married has no legal father. Establishing legal fatherhood is very important. It ensures that children are eligible for child support and benefits such as Social Security, veteranís survivor benefits and health insurance. Legal paternity also guarantees a fatherís rights as a parent, such as making it easier for him to visit his children. In addition, it enables the fatherís name to go on the birth certificate, which is most important to a child.
Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) is one way to establish paternity. The best place and time to sign an AOP is usually at the hospital when the baby is born. The childís mother and father will likely be present together and will be willing to do what is necessary for their childís well-being at that time.
Most parents come to the hospital planning to put the fatherís name on the birth certificate. In Texas, however, a man who isnít married to the childís mother has to sign the AOP before his name can go on the birth certificate. Hospitals are required to provide unwed parents with the opportunity to establish paternity and with information about the rights and responsibilities involved. Because the Acknowledgment of Paternity becomes a legal finding of paternity when it is filed with the state Vital Statistics Unit (VSU), it is very important that parents understand the responsibility to which they are committing.
For example, a man should not voluntarily acknowledge paternity unless he is absolutely sure he is the father of the child, and the mother agrees to the same. If the parents are certain of the childís paternity, the father can sign the AOP at birth, and the hospital will file the form with the VSU for free.
The Office of the Attorney General is committed to seeing as many babies as possible go home from the hospital with paternity established. The Child Support Division has developed a Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) that trains and certifies hospital and birthing center employees to assist parents with the AOP process while the mother and child are still in the hospital. The POP staff ó there is a coordinator in each of the eight child support regions ó provides hospitals with brochures and a video that discuss the benefits and responsibilities of paternity establishment. Hospital staff, in turn, provides this information to unmarried parents. Parents also can call (866) 255-2006, option 1, to receive information Ė in English or Spanish Ė about paternity establishment.
When a father canít be present for his childís birth, the Office of the Attorney General is happy to work with him to facilitate the AOP process. For example, when a military father thinks he will be deployed before a baby is born, he can obtain and sign an AOP from the Attorney Generalís Office during the motherís pregnancy. If he is deployed at the time of birth, the mother can take a copy of the AOP to the hospital when she delivers the baby, so the fatherís name appears on the birth certificate. Not only does the certified copy of the AOP help set a firm foundation for the child, but both mom and dad also can rest in the knowledge that if the unthinkable happens, the servicemanís child will be entitled to full veteranís benefits.
Together, the Attorney Generalís Office and birthing entities across the state are giving the children of Texas a sound start in life. If you would like more information about AOPs, please contact the Child Support Division at (866) 255-2006.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
The Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form is available at all hospitals, birthing facilities and child support offices, free of charge. The AOP is for unmarried fathers who voluntarily acknowledge paternity, when the mother agrees.
BENEFITS OF ESTABLISHING PATERNITY:
ē Establishes legal fatherhood
ē Makes the child eligible for child support and benefits, such as Social Security, veteranís survivor benefits and health insurance
ē Guarantees a fatherís rights as a parent
ē Encourages a fatherís involvement in his childís life
Unmarried parents can apply for free child support services by contacting the Office
of the Attorney General at:
Child Support Division
Office of the Attorney General
P. O. Box 12017
Austin, TX 78711-2017
Information on this and other topics is available on the Attorney Generalís Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us.