If you had a child out of wedlock, in the eyes of the law, you are not your child's legal father. In Missouri, parental status is generally determined by whether the parents were married when the child was born.
Your rights as a father may be limited.
Unless you and your child's mother have an amicable relationship and can agree on decision-making responsibilities and parenting time, you will not have a lawful right to make decisions that affect your child's upbringing and well-being nor see them regularly. In other words, the court cannot force your child's mom to allow you access to them.
To assert your legal rights as a father, you would need to establish paternity. There are a couple of ways to do this.
Methods for Establishing Paternity
To establish yourself as your child's legal father when you and their mom were not married when they were born, you can either sign an affidavit or go through the court. The method you pursue depends on your particular circumstances.
The ways for establishing paternity in Missouri include:
- Signing an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity: Both you and your child's mother must sign this affidavit to establish yourself as the legal father. Generally, this is done immediately following the birth of your child.
- Filing the Father's Petition for Declaration of Paternity: When you submit a petition to the court, you are asking a judge to determine that you are your child's legal father. You may have to go through several hearings and present evidence to support your case.
You can verify your biological relationship with your child by taking a genetics test. Typically, this is not required to establish paternity, but the court may order it as part of the process.
If the genetics test shows a 98% or higher likelihood that you are your child's biological father, you are presumed so under Missouri law. However, the results do not make you the legal father. You must still either seek a court order or sign an affidavit for that.
Paternity and Child Support
After you have been established as your child's legal father, you may be ordered to pay child support. This monthly financial assistance is based on your and your child's mother's incomes as well as your child's needs.
Paternity and Parenting Time
If you are established as your child's legal father, you can assert your rights to custody and visitation.
In most cases, the court encourages parents to determine the division of rights and responsibilities and parenting time together. But if the mother and father are unable to agree, the court will step in and make a decision.
Courts prefer to grant joint custody, where rights and responsibilities are shared between parents. In some cases, though, they might award sole custody, giving one parent primary custodial rights. The court's decision is always based on what is in the best interests of the child.
If you and your child's mother have a court-ordered parenting plan, you both must abide by all provisions. Failure on either of your parts to do so can result in legal action.
Putative Father Registry
You also have the option of putting your name on the Putative Father Registry. You must do this before your child is born or within 15 days of their birth.
The registry lists the names of fathers who had children out of wedlock. It protects their rights should the mother place the child up for adoption. If she does so, the registry will be searched before proceeding, and if the father is listed, the court will contact them for consent.