As previously discussed, I am a single mother. This is not out of the ordinary in today’s world. There are a vast number of single mothers out there! Chances are you found me because you’re a single mother searching topics relevant to single mothers. Perhaps if you are not in this situation yourself, you may know of a single mother who might benefit from this topic of conversation: the issue of establishing paternity and child support.
Purpose for establishing paternity
My reasons for wishing to establish paternity is two-fold but perhaps primarily for the purpose of giving my daughter a legal father. Second reason would be financial assistance for childcare or funds for education. This legal assistance would come through filing for Survivor’s Benefits through the Social Security Administration.
When I first visited my midwife and discussed the technicalities of the last name of my child, I asked her about putting the name of the father on the birth certificate with him already being deceased. (See my introductory post to find out the back story.) Sadly, it wasn’t as simple as putting his name down on paper. She printed and handed me an article written by an attorney which advised that the best route was to hire an attorney. This attorney advised that documents would have to be filed with the court ordering a paternity test and then the results would have to be filed to get an order to amend the birth certificate.
I am not an attorney. Do not take the following post as legal advice. Seek counsel from an attorney.
As everyone is well aware, attorneys mean money. What single mother has money to hire an attorney? (Chances are, if we’re trying to get child support in the first place, it’s because we don’t have enough.)
I used to work for an estate planning and probate attorney where I learned as an office assistant how to research information on filing paperwork with the courts (there was a time when both probate paralegals were out for a family funeral for an extended period of time, deadlines were stacking up, and the head attorney ran with a sink or swim mantra). This can’t be as complicated as all of that. Or it could be.
I googled all sorts of terms for establishing paternity. Most everything addresses whether the father is (alive) refusing to acknowledge his paternity, (alive) agreeing to his paternity, or (alive) questioning his paternity. See a pattern here?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing talks about what happens if the father is deceased. So I am on my own from here.
What did I do?
I printed the Petition to Adjudicate Parentage (hereafter referred to as the Petition). As I filled that out, certain areas indicated further digging. For instance, “Respondent A” is the father that I’m trying to add to the birth certificate. He is the “alleged father” as he does not fall under any other definition provided in the scope of paternity.
What terms are used to specify the present title of the father?
The terms which the court document used is as follows:
1) Adjudicated father – a man named as the father of a child in a court order. (See Texas Family Code Section 160.204; doesn’t apply to me, never had this matter taken to court before.)
2) Acknowledged father – a man who has signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity form claiming to be the father of a child. (See Texas Family Code Section 160.204; This doesn’t apply, he never signed such a from.)
3) Presumed father – a man who was married to the mother when a child was born or conceived; a man who marries the mother after the child is born and voluntarily claims paternity of the child with the bureau of vital statistics, on the child’s birth certificate, or in a record in which he promises to support the child as his own; or a man who, during the first two years of the child’s life, continuously lived with the child and represented to others that the child was his own. (See Texas Family Code Section 160.204; We never married, and while he did tell three or four close individuals that I was pregnant and he was the father, he did not “continuously” live with the child in the first two years of her life – he died long before she was born.)
Now enters the term “Alleged father”
As none of these apply to me, I am left with one other option: “Alleged Father”. As found on Dallas Divorce Lawyer Blog in their post titled, “What is the difference between an alleged and presumed father?” by Guest and Gray Law Firm, “Texas Family Code Section 101.0015 defines alleged father as a man who ‘alleges himself to be, or is alleged to be, the genetic father or a possible genetic father of a child, but whose paternity has not been determined.’ So, if you think that you are the father of a child but it has not been concluded by court ordered genetic testing—then you are an alleged father.” I printed the Petition and followed the instructions for a “Default Paternity Case” due to the fact that he is deceased and cannot “agree”. The instructions which I reviewed can be found here (instructions for filing out an Agreed Paternity case can be found here for those who are fortunate to have alive and agreeable parenting partners).
Beginning the process
The petition requests information on who the petition is filed “in the interest of” using initials of each child being addressed. I inserted the first initial of first and middle name and then printed the entire last name. We will see if they kick it back for that, but I strongly doubt they will protest it. I leave the Cause Number and Court Number blank as this will be filled out by the clerk’s office when I file it. I checked the box for District Court in my county. Your county government proceedings may be different, but according to the Case Information section under the e-filing process, I can’t file for paternity under the county clerk. It has to be filed with the District Court. I requested “Declaratory Judgment” as none of the other procedures or remedies would apply. Included on top of the original petition is the Civil Case Information Sheet which you fill out with much of the same information you fill out on the online e-file system when filing a new case.
On the Civil Case Information Sheet, I put myself as the Plaintiff/Petitioner and selected the Pro se Plaintiff/Petitioner as I am the Petitioner. I did a little research to see if my daughter would be the plaintiff, but it indicates that I would apply as both. However, under “Names of parties in case”, I included my daughter on the second line as a plaintiff/petitioner. Note, under the “Family Law” section there is a sub-section which reads “Parent-Child Relationship” and there is where I found the box for “Parentage/Paternity”. Section 4 should be left blank in the case of family law cases.
Returning to the Petition, I came across a tricky dilemma. Per the instructions sheet, the mother is supposed to be listed as a respondent. I began researching the Answer or Waiver of Service I would fill out and those all appear to be bent towards the male(s) involved as the potential paternal match, or in the event the petitioner is separate from the mother and the mother wishes to select the box which requests the court not grant the case due to the relationship the child has with an existing “presumed” father. So I remain with only one respondent.
A little background experience.
In my experience with the probate side of the law, the decedent (deceased person) was always referred to with “, deceased” following their name. So I followed suit and styled Respondent A’s name as such. However, there is a box underneath which reads: “I will give legal notice to Respondent A as follows: (check one.)”
I know that I cannot get him to sign a Waiver of Service or an Answer. He can’t be served with a petition at any address. So the only other box I can check is the last one which reads: “I cannot find this Respondent. I ask that this Respondent be served by publication. I understand I must file an Affidavit for Citation by Publication (and potentially have to hire a lawyer to serve as attorney ad litem for this Respondent…that last part is not going to be fun. I’m representing myself for a reason. I prepared that document as well and will be filing it with the initial Petition.
Taking it section by section.
Section 5 is self-explanatory. If one of the respondent’s is out of state, it would potentially require other forms or require further proof the court has jurisdiction over the child.
Section 6 is regarding “biological testing”. This is easy because his brother is in the area and involved (and while not a lot has been said specifically on requesting his assistance as of yet, I feel fairly confident that he would be more than willing to step in and provide a DNA sample for analysis and comparison upon request). I selected the first box which reads, “Biological testing was done before this suit was filed.” There is an option to request biological testing be ordered by the court or that biological testing is not necessary at this time. While I would love to check the last box, everything I’ve read indicates the need for DNA testing if the father is deceased. I don’t feel like the order is necessary due to the cooperation of his brother. I might only use that in the event it is possible to get DNA records of the father from the system, due to him having been in the system from a previous life before Christ. Section 7 requests the name of the subject wished to be named as the father, and if applicable, who the court should find is not the father.
The next few sections could be difficult depending on your particular situation.
Section 8 is regarding custody, possession, access, and support. I check the first box because I am not requesting any orders be made here. No one is attempting to gain custody at this time due to the father not being in the picture. So due to my response to section 8’s first question, I skip several sub-questions to section 9; however, for the sake of going through the form for everyone who may use this form, the next portions of section 8 ask very specific information.
8A is regarding the custody of the children. If you’re requesting orders be made for “joint managing conservators” and want specifications of specific rights being held for one or the other parent to designate primary residence in a certain geographic area or specifically restricting both not to move the children out of a specific geographic area.
If you don’t want joint managing conservatorship, you would request sole managing conservator (presumably for yourself, unless you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would be 100 times better off with the other parent, but as a mother, let me tell you that this is rarely ever a reason to sign away your rights to at least be a joint conservator in “healthy” families. I say “healthy” meaning that if you, the mother, are abusive to the children, then you should not have custody of your children, but if you’re reading this, you are most likely not one of those mothers).
8B is regarding visitation rights. The first two questions are regarding standard visitation. Generally speaking, you agree to the terms ahead of time. Say you, the mother, requested Sole Managing Conservator of the children, you would ask that the father have “standard visitation” (hopefully, as long as the reason for the dissolution of your marriage/partnership is because of the father being abusive and dangerous to you and the children. This is my recommendation as the father is still an important figure to your children’s lives, even if you can’t stand him. They love him, and he loves them under the best of circumstances). If the father requests sole conservatorship, he would ask that the mother be granted standard visitation, or you might select that if you requested the father be granted sole conservatorship yourself. Or you might advise the court by your request that standard visitation would be unworkable (I foresee issues if the father is just downright out to cause problems or if he lives a great distance away of his own choosing), select option (c), and request the court make specific orders on the other parties visitation rights. The final request would be used in the event that the safety of your children would be in jeopardy if the other parent had unsupervised visitation, overnight visitation, or even direct access to the children regardless of supervision or not. It would even allow you to request that the exchange itself be made in a public place or supervised by another party than yourself altogether, if your safety is the only thing in question (because it is not automatic that if he is abusive to you, he is so to the children).
The last part of 8B leaves room for special circumstances surrounding children under 3, or if you suspect that the other parent may attempt to take them out of the country and not return them. (If you selected this box, I hope you took note of the box at the end of section 8A which requests the court to order that you have the exclusive right to apply for and renew passports for the children.
Section 8C is regarding child support and medical support. It doesn’t go into the specifics of child support here, that would be separate from this document, however, it does give you a box to ask the court to order the father to pay an equitable portion of prenatal and post-natal health-care expenses.
Section 9 is regarding changing the children’s names. I have no “good cause” nor do I wish to change my child’s name. Section 10 is regarding the potential safety of yourself and the children if you were required to disclose your contact information, work address, etc, to the other party.
Section 11 covers health insurance availability. Do they have insurance, if so, what is it? Do they have Medicaid or C.H.I.P. And if no health care, is it reasonably available to the mother or father? Section 12 is regarding dental insurance. Same information request.
Section 13 is regarding property owned by the children. Section 14 is all about the protective order. Is there one/ Is it pending or has it been put in place? It will ask you about the date it was filed, county, state, court, who against. Was a protective order filed against you? Same information. Section 15 is regarding public benefits. Medicaid or TANF. My child had Medicaid so I had to check the box there. A copy of this order will have to be sent to the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division and I will have to sign the “certificate of Service to the Office of the Attorney General” at the bottom of the petition (not a separate form).
Then all that’s left to do is sign and file.
The lovely State of Texas has this awesome thing called e-filing. This means that I can scan in my petition and other documents and file online via a qualified service. I will be keeping all original paperwork, however, for a number of years following the final decree.
Again, I am not an attorney. I just read each section of the Petition to Adjudicate Parentage to you and only gave my two cents where I could foresee certain requests being made. I recommend you seek counsel from an attorney in general, but especially if your situation is delicate where some of these special boxes might be needed. Chances are, he is hiring an attorney and if you’re battling the attorney on your own, you will probably lose. The safety of you and your children is potentially at stake. I primarily hope this helped put it in layman’s terms. I will let you know once I’ve filed it and the end result in a later post (probably much later since I have yet to accrue the money for the DNA testing).
In case you are looking for some books to read to help with your new journey, check out my previous post. While your kids may have already been born and past the nursing stage, most of them are still excellent reads regardless of the stage you’re in.
You may also be interested in some less technical reading with my post on believing God. Everyone needs some encouragement and inspiration.