Texas Appeals Court Holds Paternity Cannot Be Adjudicated After Putative Father’s Death

While ideally a child’s parentage is determined when they are young, that does not always occur.  A Texas appeals court recently considered whether the trial court could adjudicate the parentage of an adult petitioner after the death of the putative father.

Adult Child Files Paternity Suit Against Father’s Estate

An adult petitioner filed suit against his mother, his alleged father, and the independent executor of his alleged father’s estate, seeking adjudication of his parentage and a declaration that he was the alleged father’s biological son and had the rights and privileges of a surviving child.  The executor filed a motion to dismiss, arguing a suit to adjudicate parentage cannot be brought after the putative father’s death.  The trial court denied both the executor’s and the petitioner’s respective motions for summary judgment.

Trial Court Adjudicates Parentage

At trial, the executor moved for judgment, arguing that suits to adjudicate parentage do not survive the putative father’s death pursuant to the Texas Family Code.  The trial court denied the motion and adjudicated the putative father as the petitioner’s father.

The executor appealed, arguing the judgment should be vacated because the petitioner failed to join the putative father as a necessary party and because the putative father was deceased before the case was commenced.

Tex. Fam. Code § 160.603 provides that the child’s mother and the “man whose paternity of the child is to be adjudicated” “must be joined as parties” in a suit to adjudicate parentage.  The appeals court noted, however, that Texas courts have held that this joinder provision is not jurisdictional.

Tex. Fam. Code § 160.604, however, provides that a person may not be adjudicated a parent if the court does not have jurisdiction over them.  A court can only have personal jurisdiction over a defendant if there has been valid service of process.

Appeals Court Finds Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Over Father

The putative father in this case was not served and therefore was not joined as a party to the suit.  He had passed away over four years before the suit was filed.  The trial court did not have personal jurisdiction over him.  The appeals court also noted that the language of Tex. Fam. Code § 160.604 does not allow a person to be adjudicated a parent posthumously.

The petitioner argued that public policy and Tex. Fam. Code § 160.604(c) allowed him to seek adjudication.  The appeals court pointed out, however, that § 160.604(c) provides that the court is not precluded from making an adjudication of parentage binding on a person over whom it has jurisdiction just because it does not have jurisdiction over another person.  In this case, the petitioner was seeking to have an adjudication of parentage binding on the putative father, over whom the court did not have jurisdiction.

Appeals Court Reverses Trial Court

The appeals court found that Tex. Fam. Code §§ 160.603 and 160.604 were “clear and unambiguous.” The appeals court also rejected the petitioner’s public policy arguments, noting the statutes reflected Texas’s public policy and any public policy argument should instead be directed at the legislature.

The appeals court concluded the trial court abused its discretion by adjudicating the putative father the father because it lacked personal jurisdiction over him. The appeals court reversed the trial court’s judgment and dismissed the petition to adjudicate parentage.

Paternity Suits Have Limited Timeframe – Call McClure Law Group to Discuss iStock-1147846829-300x200Today

This case is a reminder that there may be a limited time to adjudicate parentage.  If you are considering seeking adjudication of parentage for your child or even yourself, you should contact an experienced Texas family law attorney right away. Call McClure Law Group  at 214.692.8200 to set up a consultation.




Contact Information