Senate Bill 785, relating to the termination of the parent-child relationship and the duty to pay child support in circumstances involving mistaken paternity, has passed both houses of the Legislature and was sent to the Governor for signature today. The vote was unanimous in passing the bill. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) recognized early on that technological changes required a serious reconsideration of public policy in paternity situations.

The bill provides a limited remedy for a man whose paternity regarding a child has been previously established, but who later discovers a reason to doubt the truth of his paternity, to raise a challenge in court.  A man in that situation will have one-year after he discovers the doubts as to paternity to file the challenge in the court that determined the paternity.  After filing his challenge, he can request DNA testing be conducted.  If the DNA test results exclude him as the father, the court must terminate his rights to the child as well as any obligation to pay child support. The law does not allow the man to challege the payment of child support while he thought he was the father — what’s done is done, according to the new law.

For fathers who currently have a reasonable doubt as to their paternity, the law allows one year from the effective date of the law, September 1, 2011 to September 1, 2012, to raise challenges.

Here’s the text of Senate Bill 785.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.