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Are Father’s Rights the Same if the Parents Are Not Married?

Dec 19, 2021 | Child Custody, Divorce

Even if you are not married to the mother of your children, you are likely to have the right to visit them, make decisions for them, or even gain custody. In the eyes of the law, establishing paternity is enough to give you certain rights and responsibilities. However, protecting your father’s rights in Houston, TX can be complex, especially if you have not been living with your children or their mother.

To get started, you must establish that you are the father. If you fail to do so, the other parent gains full custody and will be able to take the children away without having to consult you. You will also need to negotiate various factors such as conservatorship, your rights and duties, possession, access, and support. The best way to navigate the complex family laws in Texas is to hire an experienced family law lawyer.

Fathers’ Rights for Unmarried Parents in Houston, TX

In the past, it was hard for unmarried fathers to gain access to their children because the mother was considered the primary caregiver by default. Fortunately, things have changed, and it is easier than ever for you to see, live with, and make decisions for your children. Unless there are other factors at play, such as violence or substance addiction, you will have the same rights as the mother.

In addition to getting to see your children regularly or having partial custody, your rights and responsibilities will include making decisions for them about issues like school and religion. What’s more, you will need to support them financially. The best way to find out more about the various rules and regulations is to speak to a lawyer familiar with the local and federal laws surrounding child custody.

Establishing Paternity

Because you are not married, you will need to establish paternity before you can claim any rights. There are two ways to do this in Texas. The first one involves signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity, or AOP. This is the easiest method of proving that you are the father, but it requires the children’s mother’s signature as well as yours. Thus, it is only an option if both parties agree that you are the genetic father.

The second option is to file a paternity lawsuit in court and get a DNA test. The mother, the children in question, and you will all be swabbed to see whether there is a relation. This option can cost you a lot of time and money, but it provides hard and fast evidence. For this reason, it is the best solution if you or the mother aren’t sure of paternity.


When you’ve established that you are indeed the father, you can start to negotiate issues related to custody and raising your children. Conservatorship is the term for the legal and physical aspects of sharing children. It is applicable either when the parents divorce or if they have never been married. Since children under 18 cannot be responsible for important decisions yet, the court will appoint a legal guardian who has the power to decide for them.

Rights and Duties

As a parent, you will have certain rights and duties when it comes to raising your children. They include making decisions regarding education, upbringing, religious education, medical treatment, and dental care. Depending on the situation, the judge might determine that one parent can make the majority of decisions or that they will be shared between the two parties.

Your Houston family law lawyer can help you make a list of fathers’ rights and duties, so you have a better idea of the requirements. They can also discuss with you which ones you find most important and would like to take over. For example, if you have a specific religious practice, your attorney can make sure that your children are exposed to this, even if the mother is of a different conviction.

Possession and Access

The terms “possession” and “access” refer to the time you get to spend with your children. As a co-parent, you might either share the responsibilities, so your children live at the mother’s house for part of the week and at your house for the other part. Alternatively, one of the parents could act as the main guardian, and the other could have visitation rights.

No matter what preference you have, the court will prioritize the well-being of the children. For example, if they have lived in one area all their lives, you might have a hard time convincing the judge that they would be better off moving to a different city. The goal is to disrupt the children’s lives as little as possible and make sure they grow up without trauma.


Finally, you will have to help shoulder the cost of having children. This might include paying for school, physical items like clothes and educational material, clubs and recreational activities, medical care, and food. The court will take your situation into consideration when making a decision about how much you and the mother should pay.

If you have full custody and the children are living with you, the mother will most likely have to contribute to the cost. The opposite is true if you have limited visitation rights and don’t live with your children. Again, the judge will aim to make the optimal decision for the children, so they are well provided for and won’t grow up with financial hardship.

How a Family Law Lawyer Can Help

No matter what your situation and desired outcome is, you should always hire a highly competent family law attorney to fight for your rights. As discussed, the law surrounding custody and child support is complex, and you will have a hard time navigating it on your own. A professional can explain what your rights and responsibilities are, which helps you to develop realistic expectations and make the best choice for your family.

Unless one of the parents is violent or a substance abuser, it’s likely that custody will be shared. Thus, you will have to negotiate with the mother of your children, even if you are not currently on good terms. A great attorney can smooth over this communication and help you to avoid saying things you’ll regret later. They will act in your best interests and work with you to figure out what arrangement is most suitable for you and your family.

Houston, TX

In Houston, TX, there are many laws governing child custody and fathers’ rights. No matter if you’ve been married to the mother of your children or not, you are likely to have some rights such as seeing them on a regular basis and making certain decisions for them. The first step will be establishing paternity, since you won’t be considered a parent in the eyes of the law if you fail to do this.

Once it’s clear that you are the father, you can negotiate the other aspects of family law like conservatorship, rights and duties, possession, access, and support. If you are worried about your rights or would like to make sure you see your children as often as possible, you should contact a family law attorney as soon as possible. Call or message us now at Skillern Law in Houston, TX, or Sugar Land, TX to book a consultation with one of our top lawyers in this field.