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Missouri Child Custody Laws for Fathers
Parents and their children share a special bond that is acknowledged and protected by the state’s legal system. In Missouri, family laws have been created to safeguard the interests of children and make sure that they get ample support from their parents.
Although mothers have been traditionally viewed as the primary caregiver, the role of fathers in a child’s life is equally important. Under Missouri child custody laws, no preference is given to either parent solely because of their sex. Fathers have equal custody and visitation rights as mothers.
One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to establishing paternity is that it’s enough to have the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate. However, this isn’t true if the parents weren’t married when the child was born. The presumption of paternity only applies if the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth.
An unmarried father will not be able to enjoy the same parental rights as the child’s biological mother until he is able to obtain a declaration from the court that he is the biological and legal father of his child. A mother, at any point in time, can deny or change the father’s visitation schedule or custody rights absent a court order.
This means that child custody can only be granted by the court to a father after paternity has been sufficiently established. There are two ways to do this:
- Voluntary Acknowledgement
The easiest way to establish that the father is the child’s biological father is for both parents to execute an affidavit or form acknowledging paternity. This can be done at the hospital when the child is born or at a later date, with the Department of Social Services’ Family Support Division.
- Action to Establish Paternity
If the mother refuses to sign an acknowledgment affidavit, the father can bring a suit before the court to establish paternity. The judge will then hear both sides to determine whether the petitioner is the child’s biological father. Often, the judge will require DNA testing at a court-approved facility. Either parent cannot refuse this test, unless they want a default judgment against their favor.
The costs of the test may be covered by the state, especially if the father is indigent and cannot afford to pay for the DNA testing costs.
The Child Custody Rights of a Father
After the father’s paternity has been sufficiently proven, they can seek to enforce their rights as a father. Every father has a right to participate in decisions that involve the child’s upbringing, education, health, and welfare.
In divorce cases, the presumption of the court is that the child will benefit if both parents are actively involved in rearing the child. Thus, for child custody cases, the standard for any determination made by the judge will always consider the child’s best interests.
Two Forms of Custody
In child custody cases, a judge will need to consider two forms of custody: physical and legal custody.
- Legal custody refers to the parent’s right to decide or take part in the decision-making process for issues that involve the child’s education, health, and welfare.
- Physical custody pertains to the duration that the child spends living with or being under the care of either parent.
As mentioned above, neither parent is considered superior to the other when it comes to taking care of their child. A father’s right to the legal and physical custody of a child is equal to the mother’s.
Factors That Determine Child Custody
Missouri laws require judges to consider several factors before they determine which party gets physical or legal custody of the child.
Here are some of them:
- Either party’s parenting skills and ability to provide for the child
- Emotional needs of the child
- The child’s physical and mental safety and health
- Proposed parenting plan, which either or both parents can submit to the court
- The child’s relationship and interaction with their parents, siblings, or other parties that may impact their wellbeing or interests
- The child’s wishes and preferences
- The social and educational environment that the child will be exposed to
In every determination that the court makes, the child’s best interests will always be taken into account. If the father is not seeking primary custody of their child, they’ll be required to pay child support.
Hiring a Father’s Rights Lawyer
If you need a lawyer for a paternity suit or a father’s rights case in Missouri, call us at (636) 946-9999. Our capable and experienced team at Shea Kohl Law, LC will help defend your rights.
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Shea Kohl Law, LC serves clients in Missouri including St. Charles, Troy and Lincoln and throughout Warren and St. Louis counties. We also serve clients in Illinois.