Missouri Paternity Laws: Establishing and Challenging Parentage

A father holding his young child. Visual concept for a legal blog on paternity rights.

Under Missouri paternity law, a father has the right to spend time with his child and develop an emotional bond with them — regardless of whether they are married to the child’s mother. If the child’s mother will not recognize the father, parentage may be established with the court. Similarly, in the event a child’s father will not acknowledge his paternity, a mother has the right to take legal action.

What is Missouri’s Paternity Law?

Paternity law refers to the legal relationship between a father and their biological child. In other words, it means recognizing a father’s legal status if the child’s parents were not married at the time of birth. Once paternity has been established, a father has the rights and responsibilities associated with being a parent, including custody and visitation rights — as well as the right to have frequent and meaningful contact with their child. They will also have a legal obligation to financially support the child.

Additionally, establishing paternity has a number of legal and emotional benefits for the child. It can give a child a sense of identity and the opportunity to build a relationship with their father. A legal finding of paternity also allows a child to identify any genetic health problems and have inheritance rights under state law. When paternity has been declared, a child will also have the right to access certain benefits, such as their father’s health insurance, Social Security benefits, and veterans’ benefits.

How is Paternity Established in Missouri?

Paternity is presumed if a woman is married when she gives birth. In these cases, Missouri paternity law assumes that the husband is the child’s father — unless a court determines otherwise. In situations where a woman gives birth while married but the husband is not the father, the husband must sign a Denial of Paternity and the woman and biological father must sign an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity.

When parents are not married, there are a few ways parentage can be established, including the following:

  • Signing an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity at the hospital — Unmarried parents can consent to paternity at the time the child is born by signing an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity at the hospital. This document declares the child’s father and his name is then placed on the birth certificate.
  • Contacting the Department of Health to obtain an Affidavit — If paternity was not acknowledged at the time of birth in the hospital, it can be established by the father at any time until the child turns 18. To do so, the Department of Health and Senior Services’ Bureau of Vital Records or the Family Support Division must be contacted to obtain an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity.
  • Obtaining a court order — Paternity can be established by court order. Specifically, a judge may order a DNA or genetic test to determine the child’s biological father. If the test results demonstrate that there is at least a 98% probability that the man is the child’s father, he will be declared the father under Missouri paternity law.

To commence a paternity action in court, either parent may file a petition with the court. They may also apply for genetic testing with the Department of Social Services. The results of the test can then be used to obtain a court order.

How Can Paternity Be Challenged in Missouri?

If either party changes their minds regarding an acknowledgement of paternity, a rescission form can be filed with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Bureau of Vital Records within 60 days of signing. However, if it is more than 60 days after the Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity was signed, it must be shown that there was fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact.

In order for a legal father to contest paternity, they would have to provide the court with an affidavit and petition that alleges evidence exists that was not considered when the original judgment was entered by the court. They must also show that genetic testing was conducted within 90 days before the petition was filed and attach the results to the affidavit — or request an order for paternity testing. If the man is not the biological father, the court will set aside the previous judgment of paternity, remove any child support arrears, and issue an order to change the child’s name on their birth certificate.

Contact an Experienced Missouri Paternity Attorney

Missouri paternity law can be complex and it’s vital to have an attorney who can guide you through the legal process. Divorce and family law attorney Mark A. Wortman provides knowledgeable counsel to clients in the greater Kansas City, Missouri area for paternity cases, family law issues, and divorce matters. To schedule a confidential consultation to learn how he can help, please contact him today online or by calling (816) 523-6100.

Categories: Family Law, Paternity