Unmarried Parents' Rights
In Missouri family courts, the rights of unmarried parents are determined through paternity actions. However, such actions can take several months to bring finality to the situation, and parents often ask what their rights to their child are before they file a paternity action and while their case is pending.
When a child is born to a married woman, it is presumed her husband is the father unless a court determines that another man is the father, or the parties execute affidavits as to an alternative biological father of the child per Missouri Revised Statutes Sections 193.085 and 210.822. However, if a child is born to an unmarried woman, it is usually harder for the father of the child to establish his parental rights under the eyes of the law. At this time, the man would be considered the “putative father” which means that no legal relationship has been established between him and the child, however either he or the mother claims that he is the biological father of the child. Ideally, the father will ensure he is on the child’s birth certificate to establish himself as the biological father of the child and to make his legal relationship with the child clear. Signing an affidavit acknowledging the child as his own or submitting to DNA testing are also ways he can establish parenthood per Missouri Revised Statute Section 210.822.
It is important to note that once the biological father has established himself as such under the eyes of Missouri law per the foregoing paragraph, he has equal rights to the child as does the mother. However, although this means that either parent has the ability to take the child to the doctor or register the child for school, for example, it does not mean that one parent can enlist the police to enforce their claim to the child if the child is being withheld by the other parent. That is why it is important for unmarried parents to obtain a paternity judgment from their county’s family court outlining a custody schedule for the parents, as well as an order for child support and health insurance, if necessary. Once a Family Court Judgment is entered with an incorporated Parenting Plan, which sets up a physical custody schedule as well as a legal custody arrangement to determine who makes the major decisions for the child, then either parent can enlist the police and courts to enforce the ordered schedule and their rights if need be. For more information on paternity actions, please check out our blog.