With national data showing the out-of-wedlock birth rate somewhere around forty-percent, paternity cases are on the rise and almost as common as divorce these days. When a child is born, but the parents were not married at the time of birth, and marriage was not an option for whatever reason, the appropriate case for a father to file to determine if he is dad and, if so, how child custody and support should work is by filing a paternity action filed in the circuit court in which the mother or alleged father live.
In certain circumstances, a mother may simply seek child support from the alleged father through the Division of Child Support Enforcement. However, the Division of Child Support Enforcement will not determine what custody rights a father should receive. This often results in a scenario where the father is paying child support, but yet he has no enforceable visitation rights. This is why a paternity action filed in the circuit court is a more comprehensive way to deal with the birth of a child out of wedlock. This is also why a father who wants to be an active participant in their child’s life must hire an attorney and file a paternity case. A paternity case works a lot like a divorce, except the court will not getting into dividing property and debt, nor can anybody be awarded maintenance (i.e alimony).
If you were never married to the mother of your children, a father has no enforceable visitation time until he gets a custody order through the court system by filing a paternity action. Thus, the mother is free to deny visitation and make decisions involving the upbringing of your child without your input. This is true even if you on the birth certificate and providing child support, so it is imperative to file your case to establish your rights to your child. The sooner you file your paternity case, the better chance you will have at obtaining custody or parenting time.
Even if you are not interested in seeking visitation or custodial rights, be forewarned that under Missouri law, the child’s mother could sue you for paternity and child support. In this proceeding, you could be ordered to pay up to five years back child support. Therefore, in order to avoid large child support arrears that could result in further detrimental consequences (such as criminal proceedings) you should establish paternity through a court order as soon as the child is born.
The paternity testing process is simple and takes only a few minutes. The lab technician will merely swipe the inside of your cheek with a Qtip. After the results of the test are presented to the court, it will establish you as the legal father of the child. Custody and visitation may be decided in that hearing, or the court may do so at a later time.
If both parents have reached an agreement on custody and parenting time, this will make the case a lot easier. However, please know that informal agreements are not enforceable until a judge signs a judgment ratifying that agreement. This means that either party can choose to renege on any informal agreement not court approved. This is why it is crucial to formalize these agreements with the signature of a judge.
Stange Law Firm has hosted seminars on the topic of paternity throughout the St. Louis area and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote an article in 2009 about Stange Law Firm called, “A babby daddy is no daddy in the eyes of the law.”