Texas Court Finds Alleged Father Time-Barred From Adjudicating Paternity

iStock-1033856542-300x200Under Texas family law, a mother’s husband is presumed to be the father of a child born during the marriage.  This presumption can be rebutted by an adjudication of parentage or by a valid denial of paternity filed by the presumed father along with a valid acknowledgement of paternity filed by another person.  Tex. Fam. Code § 160.204. If a child has a presumed father, a suit to adjudicate the child’s parentage may not be brought after the child’s fourth birthday unless an exception applies.  Tex. Fam. Code § 160.607.

Presumed Father Challenges Paternity Adjudication

A presumed father recently challenged a court’s adjudication that another man was the child’s father, arguing the suit was time-barred.  The child was born in May 2014.  The mother and her husband separated that October.  The mother began cohabiting with the alleged father the following October. The mother and her husband divorced in August 2016.  The divorce order provided for visitation by the husband of all four children born during the marriage.

The mother and alleged father got married.  The alleged father petitioned for adjudication of parentage after a DNA test showed a 99.96% probability he was Lucy’s biological father.  The mother’s ex-husband conceded that the alleged father was likely the child’s biological father based on the DNA test.  He argued, however, that the alleged father was time-barred from seeking adjudication of parentage.

The alleged father argued in response that the statutory time limitation infringed on his constitutional parental rights.

Husband Appeals Adjudication

The trial court declared the alleged father was Lucy’s father and that the father-child relationship was established between them. The husband appealed.

The ex-husband argued the trial court erred because the statute of limitations had passed without an applicable exception.  The alleged father argued there was an applicable statutory exception, or, in the alternative, that the statute violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights.

There are two potentially applicable exceptions to the limitations period in this case.  One exception would arise if the ex-husband and mother did not live together or engage in sexual intercourse at the time the child was conceived.  The other possible exception would arise if the ex-husband was precluded from bringing suit timely because misrepresentations led him to mistakenly believe he was the child’s biological father.

The appeals court noted that the mother and ex-husband stipulated that they lived together when the child was born.  There was no evidence in the record regarding whether they had sexual relations during the period when the child was probably conceived.  The trial court therefore did not have any basis for granting the petition pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 160.607(b)(1).

The alleged father also argued that the court could have applied the exception in Tex. Fam. Code §160.607(b)(2). He argued that the ex-husband was precluded from filing a suit to adjudicate parentage because of the mother’s misrepresentations the husband was the biological father. He argued the mother’s misrepresentations could have constituted common-law fraud and fraud by non-disclosure.

The appeals court also found there was insufficient evidence to support this exception. The father argued the mother had misrepresented to the ex-husband that he was the father. He pointed out the child was listed as a child of the marriage in the divorce and that the ex-husband had been granted visitation.

The appeals court found, however, no evidence of misrepresentation.  The record only indicated that the alleged father questioned the child’s paternity and that the parties found out the ex-husband was not the biological father after the DNA test.

The appeals court found the alleged father failed to meet the burden to show there evidence raising an exception to the limitations period.  The appeals court found the trial court would have erred in granting the petition under either of the exceptions.

The alleged father argued the state violated his fundamental right to parent his child under the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Appeals Court Looks to Precedent from the Supreme Court

The appeals court noted that other Texas courts had upheld the constitutionality of the statute of limitations. Those courts looked to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Michael H. v. Gerald D., which upheld a law that did not give a biological father standing to file suit to adjudicate parentage of a child born during the mother’s marriage to another man at all.  The Supreme Court found no fundamental right for a biological father to assert parental rights over a child born to a woman who is married to another man.

The Texas courts found that if the California law that completely prevented a biological father from suing to adjudicate parentage was constitutional, then Texas’s four-year statute of limitations would not violate any fundamental rights of the alleged father.

The appeals court found the application of the statute of limitations did not violate the alleged father’s rights and upheld the constitutionality of the law. Unlike the biological father in the California case, the alleged father in this case had four years to bring his suit. The appeals court pointed out he suspected he was the biological father and had lived with the child.

The appeals court also noted that the ex-husband had maintained a continuous relationship with the child and her siblings.  The court noted that both the alleged father and the ex-husband would care for the child.

The appeals court found the trial court erred in adjudicating the alleged father as the child’s father and reversed the judgment.  The appeals court dismissed the alleged father’s petition.

Paternity Actions Have High Stakes – Call McClure Law Group to Represent Your Interests

If you are involved in a situation involving a presumed father in Texas, you should be aware there is a time limit on challenging that presumption. Whether you are the child’s mother, presumed father, or potential biological father, a knowledgeable Texas paternity lawyer can advise you of your rights and your options.  Call 214.692.8200 to schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group.

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