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Time Limit for Alleged Biological Father to Rebut Husband’s Presumptive Paternity in Texas

Under Texas family law, a child’s parents have certain rights and duties regarding their children, including the right of possession and the right to make certain decisions related to them.  Parents also have the duties to support, care for, and protect their children.  Though in some cases, the parent-child relationship must be established.

In a recent case, a child’s alleged biological father petitioned to establish paternity several years after the child was born. The child’s mother had been married to her husband since 2008.  The child was born in July 2010.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the mother also had a sexual relationship with the petitioner for about four years, including the approximate period of the child’s conception. The mother told the petitioner he was the child’s biological father during and after the pregnancy.

The husband believed he was the child’s biological father during the pregnancy and for at least the first four years of the child’s life.  The child knows the husband as his father.

The petitioner had a DNA test that confirmed he was the child’s father in 2011, but he did not file an acknowledgement of paternity.  He did not petition to establish paternity until 2015.

A father-child relationship can be established through an un-rebutted presumption under the law, an effective acknowledgement of paternity, adjudication, adoption, or a husband’s consent to assisted reproduction by his wife.  A presumption of paternity can occur when a man is married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth.  In this case, the husband is the presumptive father.

There are only two ways to rebut that presumption. One way involves the presumptive father denying paternity while someone else acknowledges paternity.  Without a valid denial and acknowledgement, there must be an adjudication of paternity to rebut the presumption that a mother’s husband is the father.

A person with standing can file to adjudicate a child’s parentage at any time if there is no presumed, acknowledged, or adjudicated father.  If there is a presumed father, however, a suit to adjudicate the child’s parentage generally must be filed by the child’s fourth birthday.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. Section 160.607.  The two exceptions to this rule did not apply in this case.

The mother and her husband argued the petitioner was barred by the four-year limitation.  The petitioner ultimately argued that the limitation in section 160.607 was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.  He argued it infringed on the fundamental right of a biological parent to his own child and differentiated between married and unmarried men in a way that created two classes of people.  The trial court found the petitioner failed to file suit to adjudicate parentage within four years of the child’s birth and that section 160.607 is constitutional.  The petitioner appealed.

The appeals court considered whether a fundamental right had been infringed.  It found that the right being affected was “the right of an alleged father to commence a paternity suit for the purpose of establishing a parent–child relationship with a child who has a presumed father after the child’s fourth birthday.”  The appeals court considered the U.S. Supreme Court case of Michael H. v. Gerald D.  In that case, the Supreme Court found laws prohibiting a biological father from establishing paternity did not infringe on a fundamental right.  The appeals court noted the law in Texas allowed a biological father to bring suit to adjudicate parentage, but just limited the time available to do so.  The appeals court therefore found the petitioner did not establish there was a fundamental right under the Fourth Amendment to file suit to adjudicate parentage after the child’s fourth birthday.

The appeals court then considered whether the statute implicated a suspect class.  Suspect classes are those that have been historically subjected to “purposeful unequal treatment” or “a position of political powerlessness…”  The petitioner had argued the statute treated an alleged biological father differently from a presumptive father.  The appeals court found the petitioner had not shown the statute burdens a suspect class.

The petitioner had argued that the statute could not withstand strict scrutiny.  With no fundamental right or suspect class implicated, strict scrutiny does not apply.  The appeals court therefore rejected the petitioner’s argument and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

If you are involved in a paternity issue, McClure Law Group has the skills and experience to help protect you or fight for your rights.  Call 214.692.8200 to schedule a consultation with a Dallas paternity attorney.