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Missouri Child Custody Laws Unmarried Parents

Child custody and other parental rights are often an issue during the a divorce procedure. In Missouri, unmarried parents are provided the same freedom to pursue these rights for their children. Family law and court proceedings in Missouri do not make a distinction between married and unmarried parents.

Missouri child custody laws for unmarried parents

Family courts in Missouri determine child custody rights of unmarried parents by acknowledgment of paternity or through court order. If the parents are unwed at the time their child is born, paternity must be established even if the birth certificate bears the father’s signature.

Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity

Unmarried parents may decide on signing an affidavit acknowledging paternity at the hospital after the child’s delivery. According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, signing affidavits acknowledging paternity is the simplest way for unwed fathers to establish paternity. The mother must also sign these affidavits if she agrees to the facts of their child’s parentage.

Unwed fathers rights in Missouri

Unwed fathers can participate in bringing up and supporting their children by establishing paternity. A court judgment confirms the man as the child’s legitimate father after a paternity test has been completed. Once the petition for paternity gets court validation, the father is granted the same rights as the mother and can petition for custody and visitation.

Filing a paternity action in court

Disputes arise in many cases or one of the parents may refuse to cooperate. If this is the case, establishing paternity through court action is required to settle these issues.

In some cases, mothers sometimes refuse to sign paternity acknowledgments affidavits willingly. When this happens, unwed fathers may establish paternity through court action. Judges will examine evidence and decide whether a man is a child’s biological father. Judges will often order DNA testing to aid them in making their decisions.

Both parents may also conduct paternity testing through the Department of Social Services’ Family Support Division (FSD). They may then obtain a court order using the results of those tests. In these cases, the state covers the costs of genetic testing.

The father obtains the rights to gain access to his children once he is granted paternity judgment under Missouri child custody laws. He now also has the right to decision making regarding his child’s welfare and development.

Petition for Custody in Missouri

When issues of child custody have not been addressed, both parents can file for a Petition for Custody before the court when paternity has been established but issues of child custody have not been dealt with.

This Petition protects the rights of both parents and recognizes the father’s right to meet and connect with his children.

A Petition for Custody will result in the drafting and court approval of a Parenting Plan. This plan will set up the visitation rights and frequency, child support and obligations, and matters regarding legal or physical custody of the children.

Can unmarried parents settle child custody issues without going to court?

It’s possible (but not always advisable) for parents to enter into a verbal agreement that modifies the terms of their child custody arrangement to fit new changes in their life. However, any agreement made without the court is not binding and cannot be enforced. If one parent violates these new terms, or steps beyond certain restrictions, there is no legal step that the other parent can take. Another more formal non-binding option to resolve a child custody dispute without involving the court is mediation.

Contact a St. Charles child custody lawyer

Questions concerning child custody and custody arrangement are one of the most contentious issues in any Missouri divorce proceedings. These proceedings are usually stressful and emotionally damaging to all parties involved, including the children.

When choosing a child custody lawyer to represent you, consider hiring a St. Charles County divorce attorney with many years of experience in the field and who you’ll feel comfortable with. You need a strong family law attorney on your side to help you establish your rights as a parent.

We at Shea Kohl Law understand how important the bond is between parent and child and see to it that they stay unbroken. Call our office today at (636) 946-9999 for your free initial consultation. We guarantee that any information you share with us will be kept confidential.

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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.