In Missouri, a father should have the same rights during a child custody decision as the mother. However, this process gets complicated when the father is not married to the mother. In these cases, a father might miss out on custody of the child, even if they are the biological father of the child. If you are going through this situation, it may be time to hire an attorney to stand up for a Missouri father’s right to be in their child’s life.

What Happens When a Father Isn’t Married in a Custody Case?

If two parents are not married at the time of a child’s birth in Missouri, the state gives the mother sole custody of the child. The mother will also have full parental rights and have the final say in decisions related to the child’s upbringing.

If a couple decides to separate, they may have a battle over who has custody of the child. The mother will have the legal right to full legal and physical custody of the child, but a father does have the right to be in the child’s life.

An unmarried father will want to work to establish paternity to prove they are the child’s father. With paternity, the father can then work to establish a more favorable custody schedule and have the right to be in the child’s life. But without any established paternity, an unmarried father will have little legal recourse in taking care of their child.

What rights does a father have in Missouri if unmarried?

How Do You Establish Paternity in Missouri?

There are a few ways to establish paternity for an unmarried father in Missouri. The primary methods for establishing paternity include:

  • Voluntary affidavit: After giving birth, an unmarried mother can establish paternity for the father by signing an affidavit establishing who the biological father is. The father will not have to submit to genetic testing, and this will work the same as if the two parties were already married before the child’s birth.
  • Independent DNA test: If a father wants to establish paternity or believes they are the father of a child, they can complete a DNA test to prove lineage.
  • Court-ordered DNA test: In cases of disputed paternity, the father may petition the court to order a DNA test to answer the question of who the father of the child is.

If the mother did not sign the affidavit at the time of birth, the couple can agree to jointly recognize a father’s paternity at any time. They will have to complete official paperwork and acknowledge who the father is.

What Should You Do If You Are an Unmarried Father Going Through a Custody Battle?

You’ll want to speak to an attorney if you find yourself bogged down in a legal quagmire with no idea how to proceed. An attorney can help you navigate your custody battle and fight for your right to be in the child’s life.

When discussing custody, there are two aspects concerning a child. These aspects are:

  • Physical custody: This is who has the child in their household at any time. When a parent has physical custody, they must care for the child and give them a suitable environment to live in. Many parents opt for joint physical custody, and it can be an even split or tilted toward one parent over the other.
  • Legal custody: This allows the parent to be part of the decision-making process for a child. They can have a say in the type of diet a child eats, the religion they follow, the school they attend, and the medical care they receive. Many couples end up with joint legal custody and have to come to an agreement on big decisions in a child’s life.


Q: What Rights Do Fathers Have in Missouri?

A: Missouri law does not discriminate against fathers when it comes to the right of custody or visitation. Fathers have the same legal protections as mothers. A father who has not established paternity, however, will not have the same rights. In these cases, the mother will have total control over caring for the child and making decisions in their lives. This is why unmarried fathers must establish paternity as soon as possible.

Q: How Can a Father Lose Custody of a Child in Missouri?

A: The court will seek to remove a child from a parent’s custody in Missouri for several reasons. If the court has reason to believe a parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, abusing the child, violating a court order, neglecting a child, or suffering from severe mental health problems, it may decide to remove a child from the parent’s custody.

Q: Is It Possible for a Father to Win 50/50 Custody of a Child in Missouri?

A: Yes. Fathers have the same right to joint custody as the mother when separating. Judges will look at several factors when determining how to divide custody between the parents. They may account for the income level of both parents, who spent the most time raising the child, the home situation of the parents, and any history of neglect or abuse.

Q: What Is the “Deadbeat Dad” Law in Missouri?

A: The “deadbeat dad” law refers to legislation detailing what happens when a parent does not keep up with child support payments. After a divorce, a parent will likely have to pay child support to the spouse for caring for a child. A parent who withholds or fails to pay is subject to fines and withheld earnings from their job.

Stange Law Firm, PC: Experienced Family Law Attorneys

Unmarried fathers have an uphill battle in front of them when they try to remain a fixture in a child’s life following a separation. Without legally established paternity, they may end up not being allowed to see the child or have decision-making authority. If you are a father struggling to establish paternity and protect your rights, you should speak with an attorney from our team. At Stange Law Firm, PC, we aim to help parents get the rights they deserve.

If you need legal assistance, we can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and see how our team can aid you in any family law situation.