In Missouri, there is a legal presumption of parentage when a child is born to married parents. The parents are considered to be the biological and legal parents. When parents are unmarried and have children, the state only considers the parent who gave birth to the child to be the legal and biological parent. Parents who want to establish paternity rights of both parents must take certain steps to do so.

Why Is It Important to Establish Paternity?

Establishing paternity of a child allows both parents to have legal parental rights and responsibilities. This includes the right to make legal decisions for a child’s educational and healthcare needs, among other decisions. It also includes the parental right to custody and visitation and the right to give or receive child support if the parents separate.

Establishing paternity also has a number of benefits for children, including providing them with financial support from both parents, access to the family medical records of both parents, and a personal sense of identity and belonging.

How Can I Establish Paternity?

Unmarried parents can voluntarily establish paternity for a newborn child by signing an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity. This form can be found at the hospital after the child is born, or it can be secured from the Department of Health and Senior Services Bureau of Vital Records or Family Support Division (FSD). It is a voluntary form signed by both parents, which provides the parent who did not give birth to the child with legal and biological paternity.

If the Affidavit is signed at the hospital, both parents’ names can be added to the birth certificate. Parents can obtain another copy of the certificate if the Affidavit is signed later.

If either parent is not sure if they are the child’s biological parents, the state advises that they wait to sign the Affidavit and obtain genetic testing. Genetic testing can be done through the FSD, using DNA from the child and both parents. If genetic testing shows both parties are the child’s biological parents, they are provided legal parental rights under Missouri law.

Parents can also establish paternity through the court. If either parent refuses to sign an Affidavit or allow genetic testing, the other parent may be able to obtain a court order. The court can order that both parents complete genetic testing. If the results show both parties are the biological parents, the court will establish the legal parental rights. It does not need the consent of the parents to do this.

Denial of Paternity for Married Parents

When the biological parent of the child is married, and their spouse is not the other biological parent, this can complicate determining paternity. The spouse who is not the biological parent must sign the Husband’s Denial of Paternity before the Affidavit can be signed by the biological parents.

If the non-biological spouse refuses to sign the denial of their paternity rights or can’t be located, the biological spouse can petition child support services to establish paternity.

Can an Acknowledgement of Paternity Be Revoked?

A paternity Affidavit is considered legally binding but could be rescinded by either party who signed it. Rescinding must be done by whichever is earliest:

  • Within 60 days of the most recent signature; or
  • The day proceedings begin to establish support orders for either signing party.

After these deadlines, parents can only rescind a voluntary Affidavit based on duress, fraud, or material mistake. The burden of proof is on the party filing and claiming one of these causes. While a case determining the revocation of paternity rights is in progress, parties are still subject to their parental rights, such as child support.

What if a Child’s Paternity Is Never Established?

If neither parent attempts to establish paternity and the parent who gave birth to the child needs financial support, the Missouri Division of Child Support Enforcement may order child support payments. This state agency could require the other biological parent to pay child support but does not establish any other parental rights.


Q: How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity in Missouri?

A: If no paternity is established and a child only has one legal and biological parent, the other biological parent has until the child turns 18 to file a paternity action. Prior to the child turning 18, either parent, the child, or the state can request a court-ordered paternity action to establish the child’s biological parents. After the child turns 18, they have until they turn 21 to file their claim with the court to determine their biological paternity.

Q: Can I Voluntarily Terminate My Parental Rights in Missouri?

A: The voluntary termination of parental rights generally occurs during the adoption process. The biological parent voluntarily terminates their parental rights so that the adoptive parents can gain parental rights over the child. Both the parent or parents terminating their rights and the court must determine that this choice is in the child’s interests. The parent or parents must knowingly, voluntarily, and in writing give up their parental rights.

Q: How Long Does a Father Have to Be Absent to Lose His Rights in Missouri?

A: Parental abandonment in family court is grounds for the termination of parental rights. If either parent or legal guardian has failed to provide their child with support or care for six months, their parental rights may be terminated. Under Missouri law, parental abandonment includes:

  • The parent left the child, and the child’s identity could not be determined despite searching. The parent did not attempt to claim the child.
  • Without good reason, the parent left the child without parental care and support and failed to communicate with the child despite being capable of doing so.

Q: Does a Birth Certificate Establish Paternity in Missouri?

A: A parent’s name can be put on the birth certificate after paternity has been established. However, a parent’s name on the birth certificate does not automatically provide them with parental rights. Paternity must still be established through the court or a voluntary Affidavit. Without court-enforced established paternity, a parent does not have the rights and responsibilities to legal decision-making, child custody, or other parental rights.

Helping Your Family Through Family Court

At Stange Law Firm, we have helped many families handle complex issues. Establishing paternity can help bring your family together and provide benefits for your child. Contact our firm today to learn how we can provide you with legal care.