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Protection for Unmarried Parents in Texas

Unmarried parents enjoy much of the same protection that divorced couples receive when it comes to custody and visitation issues. The deciding factor is what's in the best interests of the child rather than whether the parents were ever married. However, a parent must first be acknowledged as the child's parent before gaining certain rights.

The Importance of Establishing Paternity

For couples with children that are divorcing, the husband is the presumptive father. This differs for an unmarried father where establishing paternity is a necessary step for determining legal rights and responsibilities involving child support, visitation, and custody issues. After a father has established paternity, he can then proceed with getting custody and visitation resolved.

Custody issues are divided into two roles: (1) conservatorship (making legal decisions); and (2) possession and access (physical custody and the time that the parents spend with the child). Texas uses the term "conservatorship" instead of the more familiar term "custody." There are two types of conservatorships. One is a sole managing conservatorship in which one parent is appointed as having sole responsibility for decision-making. The second is a joint managing conservatorship which is when there's shared responsibility.

Protection for Unmarried Parents in Texas at a Glance

Although an attorney is the ideal resource for obtaining the specific meanings in statutes, it's also useful to understand the law from a plain language point of view. The chart below provides a summary of the protection that unmarried parents receive in Texas.


Parental Roles

Conservatorship: The ability to make legal decisions for the child including decisions regarding education, health care, and religious training.

Possession and Access: The physical custody of the child and the time spent with the parent.

Rights During Possession:

During the period that the parent has possession of the child, the parent appointed as a conservator of child has the following rights:

  • The right to consent for the child to medical and dental care not involving an invasive procedure; and
  • The right to direct the moral and religious training of the child.

Duties During Possession:

  • The duty of providing care and control of the child;
  • The duty of providing protection, and reasonable discipline of the child; and
  • The duty to support the child, including providing the child with clothing, food, shelter, and medical and dental care.

Rights to Information

A conservator of a child always has the right to receive information from any other conservator of the child about the health, education, and welfare of the child.

A conservator also has the right to know if the other conservator of the child resides with, marries, or intends to marry a person who the conservator knows is registered as a sex offender or is currently being charged with a sex registry offense.

Exclusive rights of the sole conservator

  • The right to determine child's primary residence
  • The right to consent to child's medical, dental and surgical treatment
  • The right to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment
  • The right to receive child support payments and to hold or disburse the funds for the child's benefit
  • The right to make decision about the child's education
  • The right to services and earnings of the child

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Protection for Unmarried Parents in Texas: Related Resources

Get your Parenting Rights Questions Answered by an Attorney

Dealing with legal issues involving your rights as a parent can be complicated and emotionally draining. If you have questions about the protection that you're entitled to as an unmarried parent in Texas, then verify the law with someone with experience in this area. Contact a Texas family law attorney to get started.

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