Missouri law provides for a specific cause of action to determine a parent-child relationship for parents of children that are born outside of marriage. This is called an action for establishment of Parentage. The most common type of action is that to determine the father-child relationship, called an action for Declaration of Paternity, but it is possible to bring an action for determination of the mother-child relationship as well.
Actions for paternity are increasingly more common in today’s society, and they are a very important tool to unmarried parents, particularly fathers. Without marriage or a judicial declaration of paternity, a father’s parental rights are just short of non-existent. Not only will the action formally recognize a father’s relationship to a child, but the action can be combined with actions for custody and child support.
An action to determine the existence or non-existence of a father-child relationship may be brought by:
Jurisdiction for a Missouri paternity action is in the circuit court in the county in which the child resides, the father resides, the alleged father resides or is found, or, if the father is deceased, in which proceedings for probate of his estate have been or could be commenced. The law further provides that the case may be brought in the State of Missouri by virtue of the fact that the parents had sexual intercourse in Missouri with respect to a child who may have been conceived by that act of intercourse. Note, however, that if the action for paternity carries with it the obligation to pay child support, personal service must be obtained, and if it carries an action for custody, the child custody jurisdiction guidelines (MoUCCJA) will apply also.
There are certain situations where paternity of a child is presumed. These presumptions of paternity are certainly rebuttable, but only by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
When the man and the child’s natural mother are married or have been married and the child is born during the marriage, or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated.
When the child’s father and mother have attempted to marry each other although the attempted marriage is or could be declared invalid.
If after the birth of the child the man has married or attempted to marry the child’s mother, although the attempted marriage is or could be declared invalid, and he has acknowledged his paternity in writing filed with the Bureau of Vital Records, or with consent has been named as the father on the birth certificate, or voluntarily promised or ordered to support the child.
When scientific paternity testing results in a probability of paternity of 98% or higher.
As mentioned above, a paternity test showing 98% or higher probability of paternity establishes a presumption of paternity. However, a paternity test does not have to be done to formally establish paternity. The court can order paternity by acknowledgment and agreement between the parties. Absent an agreement, the court may order a paternity test. The court must order the test if any party requests it. Testing is generally done by a saliva swab, and the costs can range from $400 - $600.
Paternity actions can also be used to judicially determine child support and establish a parenting plan, just as married parents do upon dissolution of marriage (divorce). Also of significance is the use of a paternity action to override an administrative action for child support. When a custodial parent seeks to set up child support through the Family Support Division, a non-custodial parent will be liable for child support without the establishment of any parental rights or a parenting plan. A non-custodial parent may bring a civil action for Declaration of Paternity along with a request for custody, visitation, and support. Upon doing so, the court will usually consolidate the administrative action into the civil action, thus removing the Family Support Division as a party to the case and “representative” of the custodial parent, so that the issues can all be determined by the court.
For more information regarding establishing or contesting paternity in Missouri, contact experienced Kansas City family law attorney Mark A. Wortman.