When should I file a “paternity action”?

People are often confused by the term “paternity action.”  When I use the term paternity, I am often met with, “there’s no question about paternity.”  A paternity action refers to an action to determine child custody and child support for a child who is born to parents who were never married.  Even when there is no question as to the biological father of a child, it can be helpful to legally establish the paternity of the child and have the birth certificate amended to add the father’s name if it is not there already.

There are benefits to both mothers and fathers of filing a paternity action and officially determining the custodial rights and support obligations with respect to a child.  If the biological father’s name appears on the birth certificate of the child, the police typically will not remove a child from either the natural mother’s or natural father’s care.  Unfortunately, this often creates a situation in which one parent is withholding the child from the other.  A paternity action is typically the remedy to stop this from happening.

The Court considers three issues when a paternity action is filed.  First, the Court will consider paternity.  This is often established by agreement of the parties.  However, when there is a question as to paternity, a paternity test can be ordered.

The second issue that the Court will determine in a paternity action is the custodial arrangement for the minor child involved.  Many things can, and often do, enter into the Court’s determination of the custodial arrangement.  Therefore, issues that are often litigated in paternity actions include things such as educational issues, substance abuse issues, mental health issues, the wishes of the child, etc.  Ultimately, the Court must determine the arrangement that it feels is in the best interests of the minor child.

Lastly, the Court will enter a child support order for the minor child.  This will be calculated in accordance with the Form 14 and Missouri Child Support Guidelines in consideration of the custodial arrangement for the minor child.

Just as a divorce can be “uncontested” and settled by the parties, a paternity action can be likewise settled.  Sometimes the parties are able to do this informally.  Other times, the parties require the help of a mediator in reaching an agreement.  In order to protect everyone’s rights, this agreement will still need to be formalized into a Judgment of Paternity.