Establishing paternity: What unwed fathers in Missouri should know

In order to pursue visitation, custody and other parental rights, unwed fathers must establish paternity through voluntary acknowledgment or court order.

When a married woman has a child in St. Louis, and throughout Missouri, it is generally assumed that her husband is the child's father. For unmarried couples, however, fatherhood is not presumed. As such, fathers who are not married to their children's mothers are not afforded the same parental rights as married fathers. By establishing paternity, unwed fathers can be involved in raising and supporting their children.

Why should unmarried fathers establish paternity?

Establishing paternity can be important for fathers and their children. It allows children the opportunity to develop a relationship with both of their parents, and helps them develop their sense of identity. Children may also be entitled to receive benefits, including medical, veterans and Social Security Disability, through their fathers and mothers once paternity is established, according to the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator. Additionally, establishing paternity allows a child to inherit his or her father's estate.

Until unwed fathers establish paternity, they do not have the right to be involved in important decisions regarding their children. This includes those involving their children's education and health care. By establishing paternity, however, they are granted this right, as well as visitation rights and the ability to seek custody.

Voluntary acknowledgment

According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, the easiest way for unmarried fathers to establish paternity is for them to sign affidavits acknowledging paternity. The mothers must also sign these affidavits. Unwed parents may choose to sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity at the hospital following the children's births. These documents may also be completed later through the Department of Social Services' Family Support Division, or FSD.

Action to establish paternity

Sometimes, mothers may refuse to sign voluntary acknowledgments. In these cases, unwed fathers may bring actions to establish paternity through the court. Judges will hear evidence and determine whether a man is a child's biological father. Often, judges will order DNA testing to help them make their determinations.

Both parents may also apply for paternity testing with the FSD, according to the Department of Social Services. The results of those tests may then be used to obtain a court order. The costs of genetic testing in these cases are covered by the state.

Putative Father Registry

Prior to establishing paternity, it is advisable that fathers enter their names on the Putative Father Registry. This ensures that a man will be contacted to consent to his child being adopted. While putting his name on the registry does not legally establish paternity, it does establish an official record of a man's claim to be a child's father. Unmarried fathers may consider taking this step if their child's mother refuses to establish paternity, if they cannot find the mothers of their children or if they are concerned their children might be adopted without their permission.

Working with an attorney

It can be complicated for some unwed Missouri fathers to legally establish the relationship between themselves and their children. This is especially true in cases when mothers will not agree to establish paternity. As such, men who are not married to the mothers of their children may benefit from working with a legal representative. An attorney may help guide them through the process, and ensure their rights are upheld.