Mistaken Paternity: Terminating the Parent-Child Relationship

Sometimes a man is mistakenly identified as a child’s father. The mother may have led him to believe he was the child’s father and then require the man to pay child support, only later to reveal the he is in fact not that child’s father. Not all instances of mistaken paternity are intentional; there are plenty of cases where the mother has unknowingly confuses the paternity of the child. Regardless of the intent, Texas now offers a remedy to those men who have been mistakenly named as a child’s legal father. The man is able to file a voluntary termination suit requesting that the court terminate the parent-child relationship with respect to that child, thereby alleviating his obligation to pay future child support for a child that is not his.

Proving Mistaken Paternity

In order for a man to have the ability to file for termination, he must not be the child’s biological father. He must have either voluntarily signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity of the child without DNA testing or the Court found he was the father without DNA testing and the man did not contest that he was the father. Furthermore, the man must have mistakenly believed that he was the father based on misrepresentations. Only the man can file suit based on mistaken paternity. The mother of the child does not have the ability to file on behalf of the man or the child.

However, the man may not file for termination based on mistaken paternity if he has adopted the child, the child was conceived by assisted reproduction and the man consented to reproduction by his wife, or the man is the intended father under a court-validated gestational agreement.

The Legal Process of Terminating the Relationship

The time allowed to file for mistaken paternity is limited. A man only has two years from the date he discovered he was not the child’s biological father to file suit. However, a man may file for termination regardless of the date he found out he was not the child’s biological father, if he files before September 1, 2013. Missing the deadline to file suit can have dire consequences. The man will remain the child’s father for all legal purposes and his obligation to pay child support will continue.

Once a man has filed his petition for termination, the Court will hold a pretrial hearing to determine whether the man has presented enough evidence showing that he is not the biological father. The evidence may consist of private DNA testing, circumstantial evidence, among others. If the Court finds that the man has met his burden, the Court will then order DNA testing for the man and the child. If the results of the DNA testing show the man is not the child’s biological father, it will terminate the parent-child relationship, without regard to the best interest of the child. If the Court finds that the man has not met his burden at the pretrial hearing, the Court will not order DNA testing and may dismiss the suit. The man will remain the legal father of the child and any and all orders will continue.

If the man is successful in his termination suit, the order will end any future obligation by him to pay child support for that child. It will not, however, affect his prior obligation to pay support, meaning that he is still liable for any arrears incurred before the date of the order. But he will no longer be required to pay interest that accrues after the date of the termination. The arrears are still enforceable by any means available other than contempt (i.e. jail time).

Although a man is asking the Court to terminate the parent-child relationship, he may still request visitation with the child. But he must request this before the Court renders the termination order. After the termination order is signed, the man cannot request visitation. A Court is not obligated to order visitation. The man must show that denial of visitation would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being.

A termination order issued by a Court is permanent. It terminates any parental rights that the man has over the child. This means the man will no longer have the right to make any decisions for the child; he will not be entitled to any information regarding the child; and he may not have a right to visit with the child. Additionally, the man will not be entitled to a refund of any child support he has already paid for the child.

If you believe that you have been a victim of mistaken paternity and are paying child support for a child that is not yours, call Houston family law attorney Ashley Scott at 713-255-2097 to discuss your legal options.