Across the United States and much of the world, a child born to a married couple is assumed, by law, to be the child of the husband. Without any legal action or adjudication of parentage, the biological relationship between a husband and the child of his wife is not relevant to the husband’s parental rights over the child. Because not all marriages function monogamously, and the biological parentage of the children of married couples is not always known for certain, conflicts can arise over the parental rights to a child when a biological father is challenging the husband of the mother over the rights to the child. The Texas Court of Appeals recently rejected a biological father’s request to be adjudicated the father of his biological son, ruling that the petition was filed too late for the court to consider granting the relief requested.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a man who fathered a child with the wife of the defendant while the couple was separated. The couple did not divorce, and when the child was born, the defendant was assumed to be the father and was placed on the child’s birth certificate. According to the facts discussed in the complaint, the biological father suspected that he was the father of the child, and the child lived with him for part of the time during the first five years of her life. The plaintiff filed a parentage action shortly after the child’s fifth birthday seeking to obtain the parental rights for his biological child.
In response to the plaintiff’s suit, the defendant asked the court to dismiss the claims. The defendant argued that under Texas law, the biological father of a child born to a married woman must file a parentage action before the child’s fourth birthday to obtain an adjudication of parentage from the court. Because the petition was filed over five years after the child’s birth, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff had no grounds to seek parental rights over the child. The trial court rejected the defendant’s arguments and adopted the plaintiff’s position that the four-year statute of limitations period for establishing parental rights violated the U.S. Constitution, as parents have a fundamental right to parent their natural children that cannot be denied arbitrarily.