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November 4, 2005
Case Law Development: Termination of Presumed Father's Parental Rights Does Not Provide Biological Father Right to Assert Untimely Paternity Petition
Texas statutes provide that, where a presumed father exists, an action brought to establish paternity in one other than the presumed father must be brought within four years of the child's birth. Where no presumed father exists, no such time limitation applies. In this case, the court had terminated the parental rights of Mother and Presumed Father (to whom Mother was married when child was born). Biological Father then brought an action to establish his paternity, which the trial court dismissed as being time barred, as it was brought after four years. Biological father argued that the four-year limitation was unconstitutional and should not apply to his situation because there no longer was a presumed father, given the prior termination order. The Texas Court of Appeals affirmed, but noted that the purpose of the limitation was "to limit the time in which to establish a parent-child relationship when there is a presumptive father so as to protect the family unit. Here, there was no longer a family unit to protect once the parental rights of [Presumed Father] and [Mother] were terminated.... Nevertheless, because [Presumed Father] remains [child's] presumptive father in spite of his parental rights having been terminated, the current law leaves a biological father... with no greater ability to establish a parent-child relationship or be appointed as conservator than any stranger to the relationship. These facts raise an issue inviting legislative review."
In the Interest of S.C.L., 2005 Tex. App. LEXIS 8934 (October 31, 2005)
Opinion on the web at http://www.5thcoa.courts.state.tx.us/cgi-bin/as_web.exe?c05_06.ask+D+1519427 (last visited November 2, 2005 bgf)