A special bond is formed between parents and their child once that child is born. For the first many years of children’s lives, their parents provide for them, care for them, and support them as they grow. Since the bond parents and their children share is so special, many states, including the state of Missouri, have created laws that help protect this relationship and also ensure children receive the support from their parents that they need. Additionally, Missouri family laws have been created to help uphold a father’s parental rights, which is especially important when parents are at odds in court.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Mothers have always been viewed as the caregivers and nurturers of children – since mothers carry their children for nine months, many believe that the bond between mothers and children is very strong and important. Although this is true to some extent, the role a father plays in a child’s life is equally important. Fathers who are loving and involved in their children’s lives have been proven to help with those children’s academic and social development. Additionally, fathers can be caregivers equal to their female counterparts and act as effective disciplinarians.
Establishing Paternity in Missouri
For those fathers who wish to enforce their Missouri parental rights, it is important to first establish their child’s paternity. The state of Missouri assumes the child’s paternity when a man and the child’s mother are married or have been married and the child was born during the marriage or within 300 days of the marriage ending. Paternity is also assumed when a man and the child’s mother have tried to marry, even if the marriage was considered invalid before the child was born or within 300 days of separation, annulment, divorce, or death of the father.
If the child’s paternity is not assumed, the parents need to take additional steps in order to officially establish who the child’s legal and biological father is. In the state of Missouri, paternity can be established voluntarily when both parents agree on who the child’s father is. The parents can complete any of the following procedures to ensure the child’s paternity is legally confirmed:
- Parents can file an affidavit stating who the child’s father is.
- The father can place his name on the child’s birth certificate.
- The father can request a written affidavit or admission of paternity from the child’s mother and then file it with the court.
- The father can pay the mother’s medical and hospital bills relating to the pregnancy.
- The father can support the child in a regular and continuous manner.
In cases when a father and mother do not agree on the identity of the child’s father, paternity can be established using a court action or genetic testing. When there is a disagreement about paternity, either the mother or father can request that genetic testing be completed in order to confirm or rule out if the man in question is the child’s father. These tests can be requested through the Missouri Family Services Division and may be funded by the state. Additionally, the child’s mother, the presumed father, or the child him or herself (with legal help) can file a court action in order for a judge to establish paternity.
A paternity action can be filed at any point before the child in question turns 18 years old, and the child can file a paternity action until he or she turns 21. Once paternity has been established by the court through an affidavit or court order, the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate. A paternity action can be filed in the circuit court of the county in which the child, the presumed father, or the mother lives. If the presumed father has passed away, the case can be seen in the county where his estate is being settled.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
Once paternity has been established, if the parents are not together, the father may wish to seek Missouri child custody or visitation. Courts making custody determinations in Missouri consider the “best interests of the child” standard when making their decisions. While every case is different, the court starts by presuming that the child most benefits from having continued, frequent, and meaningful contact with both parents and also by having both the mother and father present and participating in the decisions affecting the child’s welfare, health, and education.
Laws for the state of Missouri provide judges with guidance in making these decisions by listing some of the factors they should consider during child custody cases. Some of the basic categories for these factors include, but are not limited to:
- The child’s health and safety
- The child’s emotional needs
- Both parents’ co-parenting skills
There are two forms of custody the judge needs to consider – legal and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to participate in major decisions regarding the general welfare, health, and education of the child. Physical custody refers to the amount of time a child resides with or under the care of one of the parents. Missouri state law prefers joint legal custody and frequent contact between the child and both parents. Additionally, joint physical custody is not denied when one parent is against it as long as it benefits the child involved.
In these child custody cases, mothers and fathers are regarded equally, meaning neither parent has a more favorable position than the other at the beginning of the case. Fathers have an equal right to legal and physical custody of their children as mothers do. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the case, it is possible for a father to be granted primary physical custody, which means the father has the child in his care for the majority of the time, and the mother is likely granted visitation time with the child – in these cases, the mother would be the non-custodial parent.
Father’s Right to Child Support in Missouri
In cases where a father is named the primary custodial parent and the mother the non-custodial parent, it is likely the father is also awarded child support. Child support is a financial payment made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to help cover the expenses incurred from raising and caring for the child. These payments are meant to help pay for the child’s shelter, food, and clothing as well as assist with medical and educational expenses.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
For fathers going through a Missouri child custody case or paternity action, contacting a family law attorney who specializes in father’s rights is crucial. These legal professionals can help explain what the father’s rights are, how state law influences his case, and also ensure that the father’s rights are upheld in court. Often times, having a father’s rights attorney can help fathers secure a better outcome for their case and get to spend the time with their child that they deserve.