Establish Paternity


Paternity means "fatherhood." A person's status as a legal parent of a child depends on the marital status of the parents. A paternity establishment case decides the legal status of the biological parents who were not married to each other when the child was born. Health insurance providers may want this done before they will cover the child. This also makes it easier for the child to get benefits available through a parent, such as social security.

Paternity legal issues can be complicated. This is only a general explanation. You should talk to a lawyer who can advise you about your rights and responsibilities. A lawyer may help with your entire case or specific parts of your case (called limited scope representation). A lawyer providing limited help usually will charge a fixed fee or charge by the hour. Click these links for more information:


How is legal status as a parent established through the court?
A man who believes he is the biological father of a child may file a Petition to Establish Paternity. The case is filed in a circuit court where the child or co-parent resides, or where a case involving the child already is pending. Other interested persons permitted by law and the state of Missouri also may file a petition to establish paternity.

What happens if I am notified that I am part of a paternity establishment case?
Do not ignore a summons or notice. If you do, the court may make decisions without you taking part. After a defendant/respondent has been served (notified), a written response called an "Answer" must be filed within 30 days. The defendant/respondent then is entitled to written notice of future court proceedings.

Important Notice: If a person does not respond to an action for parentage, a Judgment of Paternity may be entered ordering that person to pay child support, medical support or reimburse the state or others for support previously provided for the child. A person sued has a right to contest that he or she is a parent of the child and has the right to request genetic testing to prove whether or not he or she is a parent. (Section 210.828.4, RSMo)

What is a "Next Friend?"
When a court case is filed involving a child under age 18, an adult must be appointed by the court to act on behalf of the child. Typically this person is called the "next friend." Being next friend does not give a person any special status in determining custody or parenting time with the child.

How does the state get involved in this type of case?
The state may file a case when a child has received state aid (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Medicaid benefits). The state will ask the court to decide who are the legal parents of the child and to set up child support payments. In some cases the state will seek repayment of state benefits paid for the child (called "state debt"). A biological parent also may request help from the Missouri Department of Social Services Family Support Division to file a case.

Do I need to hire a lawyer to represent me?
Only a lawyer can advise you about your legal rights. The decisions made in the case will significantly affect your rights and the rights of the child. The state's lawyer does not represent either parent on the issues in the case.

What are the steps in a parentage case?
Your case is heard by judge or commissioner. The judge/commissioner makes sure everyone who should be part of the case has been notified before the case proceeds. A defendant/respondent who is served but does not file an answer or appear in court is considered "in default." This means the court is not required to give that person notice of future hearings. The judge/commissioner may decide the case without the person in default taking part. The court may order genetic testing, may refer the parties to mediation and set a date for hearing the case. At the end of the hearing, the judge/commissioner makes a decision. There is a limited time to appeal the decision before it becomes final. Once final, the decision only can be reopened in very limited circumstances.

What are the issues in this type of case?
The judge/commissioner decides the legal relationship between the child and each parent, orders a new birth certificate with a possible change of name for the child and sets the amount of child support. Custody and visitation are not automatically part of the case. A parent can request the court enter an order for custody and visitation. A parenting plan will be ordered if the court is asked to do so.

Is genetic testing required?
Genetic testing is not required. A party may ask for genetic testing or may decide to admit that he or she is a biological parent without genetic testing. Free genetic testing is available through the Missouri Department of Social Services Family Support Division when a person requests it before paternity is established. Genetic testing requires that samples (usually cells from the lining of the mouth) be gathered from all suspected biological parents and the child. The sample from each person is compared in an approved laboratory to look for matches in the genetic code ("DNA") of the person and the child.

How are the rights and responsibilities of parents decided?
Parents should try to agree on their parenting plan since some level of coordination is necessary to raise the child. Mediation can help parents talk about the detail of the parenting plan and how they will work with each other. Free mediation may be available through Mediation Achieving Results for Children (MARCH), which is funded by the state. The court will listen to the ideas parents agree on for the parenting plan.

If parents do not agree, the parenting plan is decided by the judge/commissioner. In Missouri, the law considers "joint custody" to be in the best interest of the child. "Sole custody" can be ordered when appropriate. The court selects one parent as the "residential parent" for school and mail purposes. The court decides the role of each parent in decision-making and care for the child (commonly called custody and visitation). You should consult with a lawyer if you and the other parent cannot agree on a parenting plan. This is very important if there has been domestic violence or concerns about child abuse or neglect.

How is child support decided?
A worksheet called "Form 14" is used to set the amount of child support. The amount of child support is based on the gross monthly income of both parents and the needs of the child. In some situations, the judge may find the amount from the Form 14 is unjust or inappropriate. Parents may agree on an amount of child support and ask the court to consider their agreed amount rather than the Form 14 amount. The state has a say in the amount of child support when the state is involved in the case. The state is likely to ask that the state aid provided to the child (called "state debt") be repaid. A Form 14 is provided in the forms available at the end of this program.

Are parents responsible for costs in addition to child support?
The court may order a parent to provide health insurance coverage for the child if it is available at reasonable cost through the parent's employer. A parent also may be ordered to pay a portion of any insurance co-payments, deductibles and other expenses not covered by insurance. When insurance is not available through an employer, the child may be eligible for coverage through Missouri HealthNet for Kids. This plan provides coverage for children who are uninsured or whose family meets income guidelines.

How is a parenting plan arranged?
When custody is an issue in the case, each party files their own parenting plan before the hearing. A joint plan may be filed when the parents are in agreement. The plan has a proposed schedule of times the child will spend with each parent and how the parents will make decisions for the child's welfare. See the resources below for a detailed explanation of parenting plans:

  • Click here for In Your Child's Best Interest Handbook
  • Click here for the large print version: In Your Child's Best Interest Handbook

It is best for all concerned if both parents can agree on a parenting plan. Every child has the right to a parent-child relationship with each parent. Many parents find it helpful to work out the details of their plan with a mediator.
MARCH Mediation is a non-profit organization that offers free mediation for this purpose. Check with your court for other mediation services available. Most cased do settle before trial. The judge may appoint a mediator if the parents cannot agree about how to settle their case. Where domestic violence is occurring, however, mediation may not be appropriate. It is important to inform the court if this is your situation.

When parents agree on some or all of the parenting plan issues, they can submit a joint plan to the court for approval. Judges appreciate the time and effort parents take to develop a parenting plan and will approve agreements that are in the best interest of the child.

What is required to complete the case?
A pre-trial hearing may be scheduled so the judge/commissioner may review matters that need attention before the hearing. Genetic testing and mediation may be ordered at a pre-trial hearing. The judge/commissioner hears evidence at the final hearing ("trial"), and then decides the case. If your case is contested, you will have to prove your case with evidence during the hearing. This may include your testimony, testimony of witnesses, documents and exhibits. You have the right to get information before the hearing about other witnesses who will testify and copies of documents that will be used. The process for finding out this information is called "discovery." Discovery has time limits and usually is completed before the case is set for the hearing. The rules of evidence and discovery are complicated. You should talk to a lawyer about discovery in your case. Trial of the case is held in a closed courtroom. Only the parties and lawyers in the case, witnesses and court staff will be allowed in the courtroom during the hearing. The judge/commissioner may announce a decision right away or at a later time. The decision is written up as a "Judgment" and signed by the judge/commissioner. Courts usually ask a party in the case to write up the Judgment for the judge/commissioner to sign.

Can I contact the judge/commissioner if I have questions or concerns?
The judge/commissioner must remain impartial in order to hear your case. The judge/commissioner and parties only can communicate when everyone involved in the case can hear and join in the discussion. This usually happens in the courtroom or the judge/commissioner's office. The judge/commissioner will not read letters you send to the court. Court rules generally require the filing of a "pleading" or "motion," with notice to all other parties, to bring a matter to the court's attention.

How is a new birth certificate created?
The judge/commissioner will order a new birth certificate showing the names of both parents and the child. A new name for the child is included if ordered by the court. The circuit clerk's office sends the Judgment to the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records to prepare a new birth certificate when the state is involved in the case. If you are handling your own case, you should check how the Judgment is sent to the Bureau of Vital Records. You can request a copy of the new birth certificate at any local public health department (in the city of St. Louis, birth records are available at the Recorder of Deeds Office).

How is child support collected?
Making payments through the Missouri Family Support Payment Center gives you an official record of payments and you can get other services. The Missouri Department of Social Services Family Support Division will give you a MACSS account number. Child support payments can be made by mail, online, directly from a bank account, or through wages withholding by an employer. The parent receiving child support gets it by direct deposit to a bank account or transfer to a SecuritE debit card issued to that parent. A small annual service fee is charged for processing payments. Employers also may charge a small monthly fee for processing payments held from wages. The family support division can help collect past due child support. A parent can request the division review the child support amount once every three years and decide if a change in the child support order should be made.

How do I get parenting time (visitation or access) with my child?
An administrative child support order does not include parenting time. The police generally do not get involved without a court order that spells out visitation. The court has the power to establish and enforce specific parenting time between a child and the parents. Either parent may seek a court-ordered parenting schedule. A parent who has been denied court-ordered parenting time may apply for enforcement by filing a family access motion. This process is explained on this website under the Family Access Motion topic.

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