The Texas Uniform Parentage Act defines which individuals in a child's life may be considered a parent. The mother is the woman who gave birth to the child. Determining the biological father can be more challenging; however, Texas law presumes that the mother's husband is the father of the child unless he denies it. If the marriage ended through divorce or death no more than 300 days before the child's birth, the husband is still the presumed father. Other ways to establish a father-child relationship include adoption, acknowledging paternity or being declared the father by a court after a paternity test. In adoption situations, the biological parents' rights are terminated and the adoptive parents assume all parental rights and responsibilities. Stepparents, grandparents, siblings and other individuals do not fall into the category of parents for purposes of signing legal documents.
A child under the age of 16 years old always needs the signature of a parent or guardian on a legal document. However, an older teenager may be able to sign documents for himself if he has obtained a court order removing the disabilities of minority, the Texas term for emancipation of a minor. To qualify for emancipation, the child must be at least 16 and living on his own, or at least 17 and supporting himself.
Parental Rights and Duties
The Texas Family Code provides a detailed list of the rights and duties of parents that includes obligations related to legal documents and actions. Among the duties of parents are supporting, caring for, controlling, protecting and reasonably disciplining the child, as well as managing his money and acting as his agent unless a guardian has been appointed to perform those functions. Parents' rights include representing the child's legal interests and making decisions about legal actions, consenting to marriage or entry into the Armed Forces, and consenting to medical, dental and psychiatric treatment.
Altering Parents' Rights and Duties
Under certain circumstances, a parent's rights may be altered by agreement or by court order. For example, parents may decide in a divorce situation that the mother will have the sole right to sign legal documents on behalf of the child or they may agree to share equally in these decisions. On the other hand, a parent whose relationship with the child is terminated by the court no longer has any rights or duties as a parent.
Guardians and Conservators
In certain circumstances, someone other than the parent may have the right and duty to manage the child's legal affairs. In personal injury settlements involving a minor, for example, the court routinely appoints a guardian ad litem to make legal decisions during the case to prevent a conflict of interest on the part of the parents. If a court has ordered that a non-parent be appointed as a guardian or managing conservator, that individual has the right to sign legal documents on behalf of the minor unless the order states otherwise. The Armed Forces, for example, require single parents to arrange for a non-parent to assume the parental role while the servicemember is on active duty. In Texas, the single parent might ask the court to appoint her parents as joint managing conservators and herself as possessory conservator. She would have the right to visit with the children and the duty to support them, but the managing conservators would have the right to enter into legal agreements on the children's behalf.