TYLER, TX (KLTV) - For Texas fathers who have been paying child support for a child they don't think or know isn't theirs, there could be a way out. But, the clock is ticking.
Texas legislators are giving those men through August to file a petition for a paternity test, before the laws stiffen.
An East Texas attorney says it's an unusual change in the Texas Family Code and is intended to empower the men in these cases.
Family law attorney Linda Hoak says Texas men have eight weeks left to tell the court why they deserve to have a paternity test that could clear them of paying future child support.
"Those dads who were stuck now have a way of getting out and getting released from all of those obligations," Hoak says.
It doesn't matter if those men have suspected they weren't the father of the child for two months or ten years.
"He can actually ask the judge at the time, 'I don't want to be the dad and I don't want to be recognized as the dad. But, I still want to be in this child's life.' The court can actually consider that and if it's in the best interest of the child, the court may grant visitation," says Hoak.
Starting September 1, 2012, those dads will only have one year from when they first suspect they aren't the father to file their petitions with the court. Otherwise, they'll have to keep paying.
"The sooner someone suspects they're not the dad files, the sooner they can get out from under the child support obligation," says Hoak.
The Texas Attorney General's Office says they're pleased with the law but haven't seen much change because of it.
"We have more than 1 million child support cases, and I'm aware of around 100 cases across the state where men have filed a petition with the court under this new law," says Janece Rolfe, a spokesperson for the child support division of the Texas Attorney General's Office.
For dads who suspect they're not the father, but want to be sure before hiring a lawyer, there's a product on the market that could tell them. An at-home paternity test called Identigene allows people to take the test at home, then mail in their DNA for lab results.
This law does not mean any owed child support will just go away. Regardless of paternity test results, the man originally ordered to pay can still be held accountable. This law also does not mean someone can get the child support money back they paid on a child that was not theirs.
If you have questions about whether or not this law pertains to you, review the Texas Attorney General's FAQ HERE.