Father and daughter sitting on a dock at sunset

Paternity and Father’s Rights

Top Ten paternity and Father’s rights questions answered

Q: How do Father’s have paternity determined in Missouri?

A: In Missouri, a man is assumed to be the father if the couple is married when the baby is born. Parents who are not married can sign an “Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity” at the hospital when the baby is born declaring the father of the child. The man’s name is then placed on the child’s birth certificate.

Q: What if paternity is not established at the hospital?

A: If paternity is not established at the hospital, parents can contact the Department of Health and Senior Services’ Bureau of Vital Records or the Family Support Division (FSD) to get an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity and help establishing legal paternity.

Q: What if a father does not agree on the paternity given to a child?

A: If parents do not agree on paternity, either parent can bring legal action to establish paternity any time before the child’s 18th birthday. Children may also bring action to establish paternity for themselves between the ages of 18 and 21.

Q: How can a father get a paternity test?

A: If paternity has not been established, the Family Support Division offers free paternity tests. If the test shows there is at least 98% probability a man is the father, he will be considered the father under Missouri law.

Q: What is the Putative Father Registry?

A: The Putative Father Registry is the list of fathers or potential fathers. It is checked before a child is adopted. If you think you are the father of a child, but the mother doesn’t agree or you do not have contact with her, it is recommended to add your name to the Putative Father Registry before the child is born or within 15 days of the child’s birth. To add your name to this registry, file a Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity with the Bureau of Vital Records.  This doesn’t establish paternity, but creates an official record of your claim to be the father.

Q: What last name goes on the birth certificate?

A: When a baby is born to an unmarried mother, the mother can give the child the last name of her choosing. The last name can also be changed when completing the Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity or later by court order.

Q: Do fathers have the same legal rights as mothers in Missouri?

A: Yes. If paternity has been established, fathers have the same rights as mothers in the state of Missouri.

Q: Does establishing paternity automatically entitle a father to custody or visitation?

A: Not necessarily. Parents may decide together how to decide custody. However, if parents disagree, the decision may be determined by the courts. In court, fathers have the same rights as mothers and neither is given preference.

Q: How is custody determined in Missouri?

A: In Missouri, courts determine custody based on the best interest of the child. Courts start by presuming the best thing for a child is to have meaningful, sustained connection with both parents. When that is not practical or is in dispute, they consider things like the child’s health and safety, emotional needs, and the parent’s co-parenting skills.

Q: How can a custody arrangement be changed once it is made?

A: Once a custody arrangement is in place, the only way to change it is to file a motion in Missouri Circuit Court in the county in which you or the child and other parent reside.

Are you worried about paying support for a child you can’t see? Are you worried you won’t be a part of your child’s life? Contact me to discuss your situation and find answers. 

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