In both, Missouri and Kansas, the laws state that when a child is born to married parents, the mother and father are automatically, by operation of law, considered the child’s legal parents. However, when parents are not married, this same presumption does not exist.
If you are a father and not married to the child’s mother, it is important that you seek to establish legal paternity. This is important whether you have a great relationship with your child’s mother, including even considering the romantic relationship, if you have a co-parenting/working relationship or if you and the child’s mother do not get along. There are many reasons to establish paternity in any of these life circumstances.
1. You gain the right to ask for custody parenting time and visitation with your child.
Once you establish your legal paternity of the child, you have the right to seek custody, visitation, and other parental rights for your child. In both, Kansas and Missouri, the law “automatically” favors the mother in the sense that if two parents are unmarried and the mother gives birth to a child, she has automatic rights to the child, whereas the father has to seek to establish those rights. If the parents of a child cannot reach an agreement on a parenting arrangement including custody and parenting time, a court will determine the arrangement the court believes to be in the best interests of the child. Remember however, that once paternity is established, the court is still required to consider a variety of parenting factors to determine the parenting arrangement that will be in the best interests of the child.
2. By establishing paternity, you get a voice in decision-making rights for your child.
When children are under 18, they need parental permission for most actions that are taken on their behalf, including school enrollment, consent for medical appointments, vaccines, surgery and other similar things such as obtaining a passport and getting a driver’s license. If you are not on your child’s birth certificate and legally declared the father of the child, you will not be able to question or participate in these types or decisions, nor will you be able to provide your consent for these important life decisions.
3. Establishing Paternity allows your child to access medical histories from your side of the family.
When paternity is established, the child has the right to access certain health-related documentation. When paternity is legally established, it allows your child to clearly define who their other parent is and to know their medical history including such things as medical conditions he or she may be predisposed to, and determining what tests and precautions may be wise for them to undergo.
4. Your child can qualify for certain medical, life insurance and death benefits through you once you are established as a legal parent.
For many medical insurance companies, they require a legal establishment of paternity in order to allow your child to be placed on your policy of health insurance as a dependent. Of course, the child can also enroll in the mother’s plan, if she has one available, but we recommend that fathers, where possible, carry health insurance on the child. Not only is this an important benefit to provide to your child, but it also allows you to establish your child’s explanation of benefits information to be aware of medical treatment the other parent is seeking on your child’s behalf.
5. It is easier for your child to inherit your assets after your death with paternity established.
The US Supreme Court ruled that government and institutions cannot give preferential treatment to “legitimate” versus “illegitimate” children, however, if your parenthood is not documented, your child could potentially be denied their lawful entitlement to social security benefits and other financial entitlements that are provided for your child. Of course, naming your child in your will or trust will further make sure that they inherit what you intend, but the mere naming of the child in your will won’t solve all of these problems. Getting paternity established will ensure your child receives his or her lawful entitlements.
Establishing paternity is beneficial to protecting your parent-child relationship, as well as protecting the child’s physical and emotional well-being. If you are an unmarried father and want to ensure your legal rights are protected, contact Pingel Family Law at (816) 208-8130 today. Put our knowledge and experience to work for your family situation.