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  • Writer's pictureBeth M. Johnson

Suits to Adjudicate Paternity

A “parent-child relationship” in Texas means the legal relationship between a child and the child’s parent as provided under chapter 160 of the family code. See Tex. Fam. Code § 101.025. Once established, this legal relationship confers numerous rights and duties upon a child’s parents. See Tex. Fam. Code § 151.001. Under the Texas Family Code, a father-child relationship can be established between a man and a child in the following ways:

(1) an unrebutted presumption of the man’s paternity of the child under Section 160.204;

(2) an effective acknowledgment of paternity by the man under Subchapter D, unless the acknowledgment has been rescinded or successfully challenged;

(3) an adjudication of the man’s paternity;

(4) the adoption of the child by the man; or

(5) the man’s consenting to assisted reproduction by his wife under Subchapter H, which resulted in the birth of the child.

Tex. Fam. Code § 160.201(b).

If a child does not have a presumed, acknowledged, or adjudicated father, a person with standing to bring a suit to adjudicate the parentage of the child may file that suit at any time. See Tex. Fam. Code §§ 160.602, 160.606.

“The paternity of a child having a[n] ... acknowledged ... father may be disproved only by admissible results of genetic testing excluding that man as the father of the child or identifying another man as the father of the child.” Tex. Fam. Code § 160.631(b). “[A] man excluded as the father of a child by genetic testing shall be adjudicated as not being the father of the child.” Tex. Fam. Code § 160.631(d). A party may challenge an acknowledgment of paternity at any time before an order affecting the child has been entered. See Tex. Fam. Code § 160.308(a); In re K.N.H., No. 13-20-00347-CV, 2022 WL 243188 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2022, no pet.) (mem. op.). In K.N.H., although a man had signed an acknowledgement of paternity, there was no court order adjudicating him to be the child’s father. 2022 WL 243188, at *1. Mother later filed a suit to adjudicate a different man as the child’s father. Id. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering genetic testing over the first man’s objection because at the time of the genetic-testing order, no order affecting the child had been entered yet. Id. at *4.

Texas Family Code Section 160.204—the statute prescribing the circumstances under which a man is presumed to be a child’s father—does not presume a man to be a child’s father merely because the man is the child’s biological father. See Tex. Fam. Code § 160.204. If a presumption arises that a man is a child’s father under Section 160.204, that presumption is a particularly strong one, even if it so happens that the man is not the child’s biological father. The presumption can be rebutted in only two circumstances:

(1) when there is a formal adjudication of parentage in a proceeding brought for that purpose; or

(2) when the presumed father files a valid denial of paternity in conjunction with another person's filing of a valid acknowledgement of paternity.

Tex. Fam. Code § 160.204(b); In re S.C.L., 175 S.W.3d 555, 559 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2005, no pet.). So long as the presumption stays unrebutted, the law deems the presumed father to be the child’s father. Tex. Fam. Code §§ 160.102(13), 160.201(b)(1); S.C.L., 175 S.W.3d at 557.

If a child has a presumed father, a four-year statute of limitations applies to challenges of that man’s paternity. Tex. Fam. Code § 160.607.

(a) Except as otherwise provided by Subsection (b), a proceeding brought by a presumed father, the mother, or another individual to adjudicate the parentage of a child having a presumed father shall be commenced not later than the fourth anniversary of the date of the birth of the child.

(b) A proceeding seeking to adjudicate the parentage of a child having a presumed father may be maintained at any time if the court determines that:

(1) the presumed father and the mother of the child did not live together or engage in sexual intercourse with each other during the probable time of conception; or

(2) the presumed father was precluded from commencing a proceeding to adjudicate the parentage of the child before the expiration of the time prescribed by Subsection (a) because of the mistaken belief that he was the child’s biological father based on misrepresentations that led him to that conclusion.

Tex. Fam. Code § 160.607; see S.C.L., 175 S.W.3d at 557. At least three appellate courts have found that this four-year-limitations period is Constitutional and does not violate an alleged father’s Fourteenth Amendment rights. In re J.C., 594 S.W.3d 466, 476 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2019, no pet.); S.C.L., 175 S.W.3d at 558; In re L.M.R., __ S.W.3d __, No. 13-21-00279-CV, 2022 WL 1110521, at *7 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2022, no pet. h.).

In a proceeding to adjudicate parentage, a court may deny a motion to deny genetic testing based on equitable principles. Tex. Fam. Code § 160.608(a). When making this determination, the court shall consider the best interest of the child and:

(1) the length of time between the date of the proceeding to adjudicate parentage and the date the presumed father was placed on notice that he might not be the genetic father;

(2) the length of time during which the presumed father has assumed the role of father of the child;

(3) the facts surrounding the presumed father’s discovery of his possible nonpaternity;

(4) the nature of the relationship between the child and the presumed father;

(5) the age of the child;

(6) any harm that may result to the child if presumed paternity is successfully disproved;

(7) the nature of the relationship between the child and the alleged father;

(8) the extent to which the passage of time reduces the chances of establishing the paternity of another man and a child support obligation in favor of the child; and

(9) other factors that may affect the equities arising from the disruption of the father-child relationship between the child and the presumed father or the chance of other harm to the child.

Tex. Fam. Code § 160.608(b); see In re A.E.R., No. 11-19-00269-CV, 2021 WL 2470323, at *4 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2021, no pet.) (mem. op.). In A.E.R., a man who acted as the child’s father after the child’s birth knew he was not the child’s biological father. A.E.R., 2021 WL 2470323, at *1. After he and mother broke up, he attempted to be adjudicated as the child’s father. Id. at *2. The mother opposed the suit and asked the court to order genetic testing. Id. The court granted the mother’s request over the man’s objections. Id. On appeal, the court reviewed the factors of Section 160.608 and found the trial court did not err in ordering the testing and entering an order that the man was not the child’s father. Id. at *4.

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