Failure to Pay Attorney Fees In a Paternity Suit Consequences

A court does not lose jurisdiction to enter a decree of paternity if the father who is before the court is the "presumed" father, even if the presumption is not contested. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals has stated: When the identity of a child's father has not been legally established, a paternity action must be filed before a mother can obtain, much less enforce, a child support obligation. a paternity action enforces a father's legal duty to support his child by adjudicating the very existence of parenthood. Thus, a paternity action is by its very nature an enforcement proceeding; a proceeding that recognizes a man as a child's father and enforces his legal obligation to support his child. Ex parte Wagner, 905 S.W.2d 799, 803 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1995, no pet.) At issue in Wagner was whether the father could be incarcerated for failing to pay attorney fees in a paternity suit. See id. The Wagner court stated, "A paternity action is the vehicle through which the child, or a party on behalf of the child, is able to establish responsibility for child support and thereby ultimately obtain it." Id. The court stated that because a party may be incarcerated for failing to pay attorney fees in a child support enforcement proceeding, a party may also be incarcerated for failing to pay attorney fees in the paternity suit. See id. The court reached this result because the paternity suit forms the basis for ordering child support. Cf. id. Presumptions regarding paternity guide the burden-shifting process. A man is presumed to be the father of a child under certain circumstances. See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. 151.002 (Vernon Supp. 2000). This presumption may be rebutted under Section 160.110; a man who is a child's presumed father has the burden of proof (by clear and convincing evidence) to prove that he is not the father. See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. 160.110(a) (Vernon Supp. 2000).