Missouri presumes that married individuals are the legal and biological parents of any of their biological children. This presumption of parentage does not apply when parents are unmarried, so parents must take steps to establish those rights. Only the parent who gave birth to the child has legal rights initially. Parents can voluntarily establish paternity or request court action. A St. Louis paternity attorney can help parents navigate this process more successfully.

Is It Important to Establish Paternity?

There are several benefits to establishing paternity, for both parents and their child. The primary reason parents establish paternity is to ensure they have equal legal rights and responsibilities. Both parents then have the right to make decisions for their children, the right to receive notice regarding the termination of their parental rights or the adoption of their child, the right to custody and visitation, and the right to provide or receive child support payments.

It is also often in a child’s interests to have the support and care of two legally established parents. There are several benefits for a child, including:

  • A solid sense of identity and belonging
  • Financial support from both parents
  • Access to medical history from both parents and extended families
  • Medical, military, and other benefits from both parents
  • Meaningful relationships with both parents

These benefits for children also typically result in improved behavior and performance in school and the rest of their lives.

How Can Unmarried Parents Establish Paternity?

There are two main ways that unmarried parents can establish the paternity of their child. These include:

  1. Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity

    When both parents voluntarily agree to sign the affidavit acknowledging paternity, they both become the legal parents of the child, and the birth certificate can include their names. This form can be completed at the hospital after the child’s birth or later with the Bureau of Vital Records in the Department of Health and Senior Services. The form can also be found with the state’s Family Support Division (FSD).

    If parents are unsure of the child’s biological parents, it is advised that they wait for paternity testing. These tests can be requested through the FSD. If genetic testing is positive, both parents are considered the child’s biological and legal parents.

  2. Court Order

    If parents do not agree that the other parent is the biological parent, either of them can request a legal establishment of paternity by the FSD or the family court. These parties can require genetic testing to establish a biological parent and do not require parental consent to establish parental rights if the genetic testing is positive.

What If Paternity Is Not Established?

The Missouri Division of Child Support Enforcement can establish paternity if it determines that the child needs financial support, but neither parent has taken paternity action. If this agency establishes both parents, the newly established biological parent can be required to pay child support and not receive any other rights to visitation or custody.

Paternity Denial for Married Couples

If a parent is married but not to the other biological parent of the child, this can create additional complications in establishing paternity. The spouse must sign a Husband’s Denial of Paternity prior to the signing of the Affidavit of Acknowledging Paternity. If the spouse does not wish to sign this Denial or cannot be located, the spouse who had the child can request that child support services determine paternity.

Revoking Paternity Affidavits

An Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity is a legally binding document, and if either party wishes to rescind or revoke their signature, it must be done by a specific deadline. This must either be within 60 days of the last signature or the day that court proceedings for child support begin, whichever date comes first.

Beyond these requirements, the document is only invalid if it does not meet the state contract laws. This may include being signed under duress, fraud, or other similar circumstances.


Q: How Is Paternity Established in Missouri?

A: In Missouri, unmarried parents can establish paternity by signing a voluntary Affidavit of Acknowledging Paternity or by contacting the Missouri FSD or family court to establish paternity through ordering genetic testing. Legally establishing paternity through the FSD or court is necessary if parents do not agree on the paternity of a child.

In Missouri, married parents are assumed to be the legal and biological parents of a child of their marriage, so married parents do not have to establish paternity unless it is contested.

Q: How Much Does a Paternity Test Cost in Missouri?

A: Paternity tests through the FSD or court action are free when requested before paternity is established. Genetic testing is only necessary if unmarried or married parents dispute the paternity of their child and/or unmarried parents are unwilling to sign an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity. A paternity test not done through the FSD or courts will cost money.

Q: Does the Biological Father Have Rights If He Is Not on the Birth Certificate in Missouri?

A: A biological parent must establish paternity to have parental rights if they are not married. Although being listed on the birth certificate is often a result of having parental rights, it is not indicative of those rights. If a parent is not on the birth certificate but has legally established their parental rights through an Affidavit or through a court order, then they have legal parental rights and responsibilities for their child.

Q: Can a Mother Refuse a Paternity Test in Missouri?

A: When a paternity test is ordered by the court or the FSD, there are penalties for refusing to cooperate, including fines or a default judgment. If a paternity test is not court-ordered, then a parent can refuse. There are also other circumstances in which a parent or an alleged parent can legally refuse a genetic test. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights when you are trying to determine paternity.

Contact Stange Law Firm

Although there are cases where establishing paternity is simple, other cases are more complicated and contested. For guidance through complex issues or help to bring your family closer together, contact Stange Law Firm in St. Louis. Our attorneys have years of family law experience and can provide you with the compassionate support you need.