A common question we see at Engel Law Group, P.S. is: “Do I file a paternity case in Kent and a parentage case in Dallas when I file for custody of my son in Dallas County?” But no. The distinction between the two types of cases has nothing to do with where a case is filed.
In these types of cases, possession really seems to be nine-tenths of the law. If you find yourself seeking to enforce your visitation rights, then you need to know the difference between the two types of actions. The courts are sticklers for making sure you file the right documents in the correct order.
If you file the wrong documents or you file them in the wrong order, the court may penalize you by refusing to grant you visitation or even outright dismissing your case. When you get the documents wrong, you are entirely dependent upon whether the judge likes you enough to bend the rules. You don’t want to be in this situation because most judges still won’t do it.
A few years ago, there was a pro se father who was in court seeking to get visitation to see his eight-year-old son. During the hearing, the father recounted how the mother had moved from state to state because she did not want him to be able to see his son. Despite the father’s emotional plea, the mother’s attorney moved to dismiss the case because he had filed the wrong type of action.
The unrepresented father pleaded with the judge to allow him to fix the case. The court said, “I’m giving you that chance now because I am dismissing your case.” It was a cruel way to “help” the guy out. I still remember that moment to this day.
I don’t know if that poor guy ever did get to see his son. It is unknown whether the mother simply repeated the cycle and moved to another state. Women who move from state to state to prevent their father from seeing the children is a far too common occurrence.
When non-married people in Dallas County need to get custody, they have two choices: paternity or parentage in Dallas or Kent. A paternity case is usually filed when the parents don’t know who was the father of the child. A parentage action is filed when we all know who the biological father is and the father has acknowledged their status.
Thus, if you know who the father is and “paternity has been established,” you file a parentage action to get custody. Otherwise, you file a paternity case to get visitation to see your son or daughter.