This article explains the process of legally establishing "paternity," which refers to the identity of a child's father. It may be especially important to establish paternity in cases where it's not automatically established at birth, such as when a child is born out of wedlock or when the mother is married and her husband is not the child’s father. This process can be completed voluntarily, by the child’s parents, or by filing a paternity case in court.
If you're trying to establish paternity and have questions about your case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
In Missouri, paternity of a child is presumed when:
Paternity can also be established voluntarily, when the child’s parents agree on the identity of the child's father. A child's father can do any of the following to help ensure his paternity is confirmed:
Finally, if the child's mother and presumed father don't agree about the identity of the child's father, paternity will have to be established involuntarily with genetic testing or through a court action.
When there is uncertainty or a disagreement about paternity, either parent can request genetic testing to confirm, or rule out, the father’s identity. These tests are available through the Missouri Family Services Division and may be paid for by the state.
Alternatively, either parent, the child or the state can take the case to court and ask a judge to determine who the child's father is. A paternity case can be filed any time before the child turns 18 - after that, it can be brought by the child up until he or she reaches age 21. After paternity is confirmed by affidavit or court order, the father’s name will be placed on the child’s birth certificate.
A paternity case may be filed in the circuit court in the county where the child lives, where the mother lives, or where the person believed to be the father lives. If the father is deceased, the case can be brought in the county where proceedings to settle his estate are taking place.
Establishing paternity gives children who are born out of wedlock the same rights to financial support and other benefits given to children born of a marriage.
Establishing paternity ensures that either parent can seek child support from the other. It will also allow a child to be placed on the father’s health insurance policy. When the father dies, paternity ensures that the child can inherit from the father and receive Social Security and Veteran’s benefits on the father's record, if such benefits are available.
If a father doesn’t take steps to acknowledge his paternity, he could lose important rights to custody or visitation with his child. He may even lose the right to receive notice of court proceedings regarding his child, including future proceedings to determine where the child will be placed and who will care for the child.