Skip to Content

Children, Parenting & Custody

Expand All Content
  • Pregnancy

    • No. Texas does not criminalize people for becoming pregnant before turning 18.

    • Yes. If the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, the perpetrator (the rapist or incestuous older people) could be arrested and charged with a crime. Texas laws do not prohibit anyone from getting pregnant so long as both parties were 17 years old or within 3 years of each other’s age, and not immediately related. Immediate relations include parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, children, and first cousins.

      • Example: It is legal for a 50-year-old male and unrelated 25-year-old female to get pregnant.
      • Example: It is legal for a 16-year-old male and a 15-year-old female to get pregnant.
      • Example: It is illegal for a 20-year-old male to sleep with or impregnate an unrelated 16-year-old female.
        • There is too much age difference.
      • Example: It is illegal for a 30-year-old female to get pregnant by sleeping with her 25-year-old nephew.
        • This is an example of incest.
    • No. A woman is free to decide what actions she wishes to take during her pregnancy.

    • No. Texas laws continue to change and develop but a female still has the right to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy, so long as she makes that decision within the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy. The manner and method by which she can obtain a pregnancy also continues to change in Texas and she may have no choice except a surgical procedure. Current Texas law requires a woman to undergo an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion.

      IMPORTANT NOTE: The Texas "Heartbeat" law is scheduled to take effect in September 2021. This law effectively prohibits any abortion he moment a fetal heartbeat has been detected (around six weeks of pregnancy).

      The bill makes no exception for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest but does include a rare provision that allows individual citizens to sue anyone they believe may have been involved in helping a pregnant individual violate the ban. The provision cannot be used against pregnant people.

      This law is expected to be challenged and its effective date could change.

    • No. Texas laws continue to change and develop but a woman still has the right to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

    • Maybe. It depends on whether or not the father has been recognized as the legal father. If the child’s legal father has been established, the father must end his legal relationship in order for an adoption to take place. If no legal father has been recognized, the mother or possessory conservator may relinquish custody and put the child up for adoption.

  • Father’s Rights

    • No. A father’s duty to support his offspring does not arise until legal paternity has been established. For married couples, Texas law assumes the husband is the father and puts his name on the birth certificate. If a child is born to an unmarried mother, the biological father will not become the legal father until both parents submit an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. An unmarried father must submit this form before he can apply for visitation rights.

    • The AOP is a legal document that unmarried parents can complete to voluntarily establish paternity for their child.

    • Anyone who believes or suspects that a child is not their biological offspring may request a paternity test. There is no charge for a paternity test. For more information, contact the Texas Attorney General’s Paternity Opportunity Program at (866) 255-2006.

    • The biological father is the person whose sperm was used. The legal father is the person responsible for supporting the child financially.

    • There are many benefits for both the father and the child. For the father: your name can appear on your child’s birth certificate; it is your first step in protecting your legal connection to your child; it gives you the legal right to care for your child; it gives you the right to ask for your child’s school and medical records; it protects the child’s rights to benefit and/or inherit if you die; and it gives you the right to ask the court for custody, parenting time, or child support.

    • The biological father is the person whose sperm was used. The legal father is the person responsible for supporting the child financially.

Child Support and Custody

FAQ

  • Child support is used to maintain the health, education, and welfare of the child. The parent who determines primary residency of the child will usually receive child support from the other parent. A court may order a parent to support his or her child until the child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school (whichever occurs later), or until the child marries or dies, or is declared an adult by court order. However, if the child is disabled, a court may order a parent to financially support the child indefinitely.

    • Usually, the parent with visitation must pay support to the person with whom the child lives most often. However, other factors may be considered in determining who pays.
    • There is no maximum amount of support that a parent can pay to support their child. Parents are free to decide how much support is needed, who pays for what, when those payments are made, and to whom the payments are given. If parents cannot or do not make a child support agreement, either parent can ask the state of Texas to determine how much support is needed. Texas has developed a mathematical formula to calculate child support and it looks at a person’s total monthly earnings, personal medical costs, and tax obligations. For detailed information about calculating support and an online calculator, visit the Texas Attorney General's website and Chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code.
  • The Texas Attorney General assists parents seeking child support payments from Texas residents. Any parent with a child support court order can have the Texas Attorney General collect those child support payments each month by locating the absentee parent, contacting that parent’s employer, and garnishing the wages of that parent. These support services are provided by Federal law and are often provided at no cost to you. The Attorney General’s office also runs a child support evaders program that helps locate and bring to justice delinquent parents.

  • No. The right to visitation and the right to pay child support are two separate legal issues. The inability or unwillingness of one parent to pay support does not prevent that same parent from being able to visit and/or communicate with their child. Texas law recognizes that a parent may strongly desire to visit their child and take an active role in the child’s life but may be unable to meet monthly child support obligations due to unemployment, disability, or illness. Likewise, even a parent who is rightfully frustrated by a lack of financial support cannot refuse to let the non-paying parent visit the children, as that refusal would likely be a violation of a court order.

  • Texas law makes a strong distinction between visitation rights and financial support obligations. A parent’s right to visit with their child is rarely affected by their financial situation. A parent that has been court ordered to pay support and consistently refuses to pay could be sanctioned by the court and ordered to serve time in jail. However, that same court may also require the custodial parent to arrange for visits to the other parent while in jail. The general idea is to keep children in contact with their parents in every situation except those that may physically or emotionally harm the child. Though it is not ideal for a child to visit their parent in a supervised lockup, it may still be less harmful than preventing that child from seeing their parent entirely. A parent who refuses to let their children visit with the non-paying parent risks losing custody and having to pay court sanctions for failing to abide by the court’s orders.

    •  

    Custody is the legal term for having the right to make decisions about your children. All parents can have their custody rights limited by a divorce order. Texas does not use the terms “full custody” and “joint custody” to describe divorced parents. Instead, Texas calls each parent a “joint managing conservator” and one parent is designated as having the right to determine primary residence. This parent is known as the “primary managing conservator.” In situations where only one parent is alive or acknowledged, the term used is “sole managing conservator.” The basic idea is that each parent has the same right to make decisions for the child but one parent (the primary managing conservator) also gets to decide where that child will live and sleep most nights.

    •  

    Parents can agree on times and dates regarding who will have access to the children and when. These are often made with the help of mediation. If an agreement is not made between the parties, then the court may apply the “Standard Possession Schedule” in the Suit Affecting the Child Parent Relationship (SAPCR) or Final Divorce Decree (if married) or determine what is in the "best interest of the child" based on relevant information provided to the court.

     

    •  

    Parents are free to come up with any visitation agreement that they want. The state of Texas and court system will only get involved if both parents disagree on a visitation plan. Assuming that both parents are capable and non-abusive, the state of Texas will likely impose its Standard Possession Order, as written in Chapter 153.3 of the Texas Family Code. There are generally two standard orders—one order for families that reside within 100 miles of one another and another for families that live more than 100 miles apart. The SPO for people within 100 miles generally gives the possessory parent (i.e., the parent who the kids don’t live with most) the right to visit their child every other weekend from 6pm Friday until 6pm Sunday, every Thursday evening from 6pm-8pm, two weeks in the summer, the week of Spring Break in odd numbered years, and at least 2 hours on the child’s birthday every year. Major holidays alternate between parents each year with one parent getting Thanksgiving and one parent getting Christmas. The respective parent has the right to visit the children every year on the Mother and Father’s days.

    Example: Dad gets children for Christmas in even years and for Thanksgiving in odd years.

    • No. A common misconception of divorce and child custody is that one parent, usually the mother, gets everything she wants in court and the father gets stuck paying bills. A court will award custody to the parent that is most capable and that wishes to have primary custody. A court will look at each parent’s ability to support the child financially, emotionally, and physically. A single father who works full time, is emotionally stable, and has a secure home would be awarded primary custody over a mother who is unemployed, living with friends, and dealing with depression. The mother can be ordered to pay child support to the father.
    •  

    No. A person cannot be forced to visit or communicate with their children. However, a parent has an obligation to support their children and that parent can be forced to pay child support for a child even if they’ve never met or spoken. It is legally possible for someone to pay child support for 18 years and never communicate with the child benefited by the support. While a parent may be required to respond to a state agency or school official about their children’s welfare, that parent is not obligated to respond to the child’s calls or communications.

    Example: Alex, the non-possessory parent, pays child support every month. Alex must respond to requests from the Attorney General about late support payments. Alex does not have to answer her child’s emails asking where Alex has gone.

    •  

    No. There is no law that requires children over the age of 18 to keep in contact with their parents. In fact, you could be charged with harassment if your child has made it clear that they do not wish to speak with you, and you continue to contact them. However, if that parent is also responsible for helping you out financially and you refuse to call them back, you may find out that you can’t call anyone because your parent stopped paying your cell phone bill.

  • For non-contested matters, TXST students can call the AFS office to schedule a legal consultation. You can also find additional information and resources online at TexasLawHelp.org and on the website of the Texas Attorney General.

     

     

Adoption

A child can be adopted after living with the adopting parent for six months. However, this requirement can be waived if a court finds that it is in the “best interest of the child”. There are four sets of circumstances when a child may be adopted.

When both legal parents have their rights terminated.

In Texas, a child can be adopted if each living parent of the child has either had their rights terminated or a suit to terminate their legal rights is filed with the Adoption lawsuit. The termination of parental rights may happen either voluntarily or involuntary.

When a stepparent wants to adopt their stepchild.

Stepparents can ask to adopt children without terminating the rights of both biological parents. In stepparent adoptions, a biological parent may keep their parental rights if they are married to the stepparent seeking adoption. In this situation, the parental rights of the other parent must still be terminated to “make room” for the adoptive parent.

When a parent gives consent.

With parental consent, a child can be adopted by an adult if the child is at least two years old and one parent has had their rights terminated, and the remaining, non-terminated parent consents to an adoption by either:

  • Stepparent,
  • Managing conservator, or
  • Person who has had actual care, possession, and control of the child for at least 6 months before filing for adoption.

When a parent does not give consent.

  •  

Without parental consent, a child may be adopted by an adult if the child is at least two years old and one parent has had his or her rights terminated. In this situation, the person seeking the adoption must be the child’s former stepparent and must have been a managing conservator or have had actual care, possession, and control of the child for a period of 1 year before for adoption.