A paternity action is a court action that determines the father-child relationship and establishes child custody and support when the parents were not married. The court will declare the father to be the legal father of the child. Many times this type of action begins when one parent will not support the child or provide access to the child.

A man is presumed the legal father of a child in a variety of ways. One such way is both parties sign an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity that is filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. This Affidavit can be signed at the hospital before the birth certificate is issued, or it can be signed at a later date and sent to the Bureau. Another way is when the father consents to adding his name to the birth certificate as the father of the child.

The Putative Father Registry is a list of men who believe that he has fathered a child out of wedlock. The list contains the man’s name and address. This registry is searched each time a child is placed for adoption so that the father’s consent can be obtained. A man who is concerned that his child will be placed for adoption without his consent should register with the Putative Father Registry before the child’s birth or within 15 days of the child’s birth in order to receive notification of the pending adoption proceeding.

If a man is unsure of whether he is the father of the child, he has the right to dispute paternity. If a judgment has been entered declaring him to be the father, the man can file a petition disputing the paternity along with an affidavit with the court stating that evidence was not considered at the trial. The petition must include either an allegation that genetic testing (DNA testing) was conducted within the past 90 days, it was performed by an expert, and that the results indicate that he is not the father of the child or a request for the court to order genetic testing to establish paternity. This petition must be filed within two years of the entry of the original paternity judgment. The court will make a determination as to whether there is probable cause to dispute the paternity upon a full and fair hearing. If no judgment has been entered and a paternity action is pending, the father can request the Court to order a DNA test to determine the father-child relationship.

Once a father-child relationship has been established, the man has legal rights and responsibilities in regards to the child. Each parent has the obligation to provide financial support for the minor child. If a mother receives state assistance, the State of Missouri will seek reimbursement from the father if he provided no financial support to the child. Further, once a man is declared the legal father of a child, he has the right to see his child and can enforce child custody orders or begin a proceeding to obtain more custodial rights in regards to the child.