The Basics of Establishing Paternity in Missouri

Statistics show that about forty percent of children in America are born out-of-wedlock. These children still have a right to have their father involved in their lives. Unmarried fathers, however, are often unsure what steps they need to take to establish custody and visitation rights to their children.

Unmarried fathers in Missouri need to file a paternity action to ensure their custody rights are protected. Merely being listed on a child's birth certificate does not grant a father enforceable custody rights.

Why should Missouri fathers establish paternity?

It is valuable for fathers to establish paternity for several reasons. First and foremost, it gives children a sense of identity to know who their fathers are, and it benefits them when parents share parenting responsibilities.

A Missouri paternity action gives a father the legal right to have frequent and meaningful contact with a son or daughter. A paternity order also grants a father the right to make important decisions impacting his child's life. Additionally, when a father is established legally, his child is generally eligible to be covered under his health insurance and have the right to other benefits like Social Security, inheritance and veteran's benefits.

Finally, by establishing paternity a father has the right to receive notice of hearings involving the adoption of his child and the termination of parental rights.

What happens if a father in Missouri fails to establish paternity?

The Missouri Division of Child Support Enforcement may put into effect an administrative child support order even if a paternity action has not been filed. In this scenario, a father is required to pay child support, but has no right to see or make decisions about his child.

How can a Missouri father establish paternity?

There are several ways a man can be recognized as the legal father of a child in Missouri. If a woman is married when she is pregnant or gives birth, her husband is legally recognized as the father unless a court action determines otherwise.

Unmarried fathers can establish their paternity by consent if both the father and mother sign an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity when the child is born. If there is disagreement about paternity, fathers can file a suit to seek a court order establishing paternity. A Missouri paternity attorney can provide further advice and guidance about steps fathers should take to protect their rights.