The most important thing two people can ever do together is create a child. Missouri law does not treat unmarried parents the same way it does married parents. This is not fair. This is not good law. Fortunately, most family court judges understand the nuances of unmarried parents. Most, but not all. You need experienced counsel to ensure your rights and the best interests of your child are both maximized when you go to court.
Most laypersons, and sadly a number of trained professionals (such as law enforcement officers, counselors, and even a few lawyers who dabble in family law) do not understand the concept of paternity presumptions. A child of unmarried parents always has one presumed parent – the mother. Sometimes the child has a presumed father. Sometimes the child has two presumed fathers. We’ve even seen cases with three legally presumed fathers. This is good for nobody, and should ideally be sorted out with the proper legal action while the child is still young.
Paternity presumptions matter for a number of reasons. Here’s one example: Without a legal presumption, a biological father has no rights to his child. None. How does an unmarried father obtain a legal presumption? Nowadays, it mostly occurs in the birth hospital, with the consent of both parents. But sometimes this doesn’t happen, for various reasons. Presumptions can occur later through an acknowledgment process, genetic testing, court order, or marriage. Each method is different; and each involves varying degrees of cooperation.
Perhaps the area most fraught with danger for unmarried parents is the concept of the immediate right to custody of the child. Here’s the truth: Without a court order, either presumed parent has an immediate right to custody, including the “power” to exclude the other parent. That power is not fair nor just, but because of the nature of paternity law in Missouri, it remains true. Many law enforcement officers do not understand these rights. This can cause real problems for parents and more importantly, the innocent child caught up in something that has quickly turned bad.
If you are not together with your child’s other parent; or if you two are contemplating a separation, you must seek competent counsel to discuss a parenting plan. This involves a court proceeding to confirm your proper parentage presumption, and adopt a custody schedule that is in the best interests of your child. Law enforcement officers do understand court orders and parenting plans, and will enforce them if need be. But hopefully it will never come to that: Pingelton Law Firm has worked with both mothers and fathers in previously very difficult circumstances to bring them to a place of peace and resolution that both they and their child appreciate many years later.
Financially, it is important to develop a plan for supporting the child early. Delayed resolution of these issues can result in one parent owing many thousands of dollars for “reimbursement of necessaries” or “pre-petition support.” Or, a parent may lose thousands of dollars as the statute of limitations for these obligations expires. Dan Pingelton is a recognized expert on these issues, and will apply his knowledge to your unique case.