In the modern age, the concept of “family” can take on many definitions. As a result, the topic of family dynamics has expanded to include family structures and living arrangements of all kinds. While there are still a large number of two-parent households to be found, it is no longer surprising nor shameful for an individual to parent alone. While many parents choose to parent alone, some do not. However, no matter your family setup, it is important to establish paternity even if you and your partner do not plan to parent together.

Establishing Paternity

Before discussing why it is important to establish child’s paternity, it is critical to consider the ways it can be done. As you will see, for some families, paternity is established at birth, while for others, it may be necessary to pursue other means. If you give birth to or father a child in Columbia, MO, these are the ways you can establish paternity:

  • Parents have an existing marriage. The state of Missouri dictates that when a child is born to a mother while she is married—or within 300 days after the marriage legally ends, her husband is considered the baby’s legal father. If there is uncertainty regarding whether the husband is the child’s biological father, either spouse must petition the court to determine paternity.
  • Parents obtain a paternity affidavit at birth. This is primarily for parents in which the mother and father are unmarried and were unmarried during conception and pregnancy. Parents have 72 hours after the time of their child’s birth to sign this affidavit for the father’s name to be listed on the child’s birth certificate.
  • Parents obtain a paternity affidavit at a later date. The parents may choose to sign a paternity affidavit through the health department’s Bureau of Vital Records or Family Support Division. Preferably, this process will take place before the child reaches the age of 18.
  • Parents obtain a paternity order. Parents who did not sign a paternity affidavit at birth may also ask the Family Support Division to create an order to establish paternity.
  • One parent requests court paternity action. If one party disputes the parentage, or if the suspected father is unwilling to participate, the court can order free paternity testing through the Family Support Division. However, a paternity test only establishes assumed paternity—for legal paternity, a parent must complete a paternity affidavit or paternity order.

The Importance of Paternity

Whether you are a father or a mother, there are many reasons to establish your child’s paternity through the proper legal channels. Families experiencing the following situations can benefit from establishing paternity.

Paternity And Child Custody/Visitation Agreements

One of the best-known benefits of establishing paternity is the family’s potential access to custody or visitation rights. For the child, this provides the opportunity for a meaningful connection and quality time with both parents. For the primary parent, shared custody or visitation helps to alleviate the load of single parenting. For the father, established paternity provides the legal right to access to their child, a right which cannot be taken away by the other parent or fellow family members without further legal action.

Child Support

In the eyes of the law, both parents are equally responsible for a child’s well-being and care. When a child’s paternity has been legally established, the court can require a father to make child support payments. These payments are usually required in situations where there is an imbalance in the amount of care and support that each parent is giving to the child. For example, if the child’s mother is the primary guardian of the child, the father may be required to make payments to compensate for the lack of in-person care and expenses. These payments can help the child’s primary parent to provide necessities such as shelter, food, and childcare.

The mother benefits from financial support to care for the child, and the child benefits from access to support the mother would have been incapable of providing on her own. For example, a mother may have to work two jobs and leave her child with a neighbor or caregiver. If she secures child support from the child’s father, she may be able to leave her second job and focus on the child while providing the same level of financial support.

Medical History

Access to a child’s legal paternity information can help medical professionals to construct a more concrete idea of the child’s health. If the child’s paternal medical history is unknown, the doctors may miss a key diagnosis. However, if physicians can access the father’s medical history, they may be able to better identify and diagnose a genetic problem or indicate genetic factors that may influence future fertility decisions.

What’s more, family medical history can help a child take preventative measures before disease sets in. For example, if Type 2 diabetes is prevalent on the father’s side of the family, the child can be careful to exercise, eat healthy foods, and moderate sugar intake. This knowledge may save the child from developing the disease altogether.

Sense of Identity

Though it is not true of all children, most children benefit emotionally from a relationship with their father. Even if the father is not actively involved in the child’s day-to-day life, knowing who their second parent is often provides a sense of stability and identity to a child as they grow. Even basic information about their father can make a large difference in a child’s life.

Hiring An Attorney For Paternity

Though paternity may seem like a basic concept, it is often complicated in the eyes of the law. In some cases, fathers do not want to be held responsible for parental tasks or child support payments and may try to avoid paternity tests. In others, a child’s mother may resist completing a paternity test, wishing to keep custody and access to herself. Still others experience a mutually beneficial blended family situation, made possible by paternity results.

No matter your situation, it is best to hire a Columbia family law attorney before you attempt to establish paternity. An attorney can provide you with personalized legal advice regarding how to navigate your paternity situation. Once underway, your attorney can help you draft the necessary petitions, file child support or custody proceedings, and represent you in court so you can ensure your rights are preserved.

At Stange Law Firm, we have been practicing family law for almost two decades and have helped countless families establish paternity and related child support and custody matters. If you’d like more information about paternity, contact our Columbia, MO paternity lawyers and schedule a consultation.