Paternity Issues in Dissolution of Marriage Cases

The purpose of a paternity proceeding is to establish the legal father of a child.  As part of that paternity proceeding, a court may also address issues of custody and support.  The legal father of a child has all of the rights and responsibilities that are associated with the father/child relationship.

A legal father may be established by other methods.  A man who adopts a child becomes the legal father of that child.  If a man and woman sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity of a child, the man becomes the legal father of the child.  Section 210.823, RSMo.  An administrative action filed by Family Support Division might also establish that a man is the legal father of a child if genetic testing indicated that the man was the father of the child.  A proceeding based on UIFSA pursuant to Section 454.983, RSMo may also establish paternity.  Fry v. Fry, 108 SW3d 132 (SD,2003).

Confusion sometimes occurs because of the different meanings associated with the word “father”. 

Biological fathers are those men who share genetic material with a child.  A DNA test would almost always establish the biological father of a child.  Sometimes biological fathers are also referred to as natural fathers.

Presumed fathers are defined by statute.  Generally, a presumed father is a man who was married to a woman at the time of the birth of her child or who was married to her within 300 days prior to the birth of her child.  Section 210.822, RSMo.

Stepfathers are men who are married to woman who have children that do not have the stepfather as a legal, presumed or biological father.  Stepfathers owe a secondary duty of support for the children during their marriage to the mother.  Section 453.400, RSMo.

Paternity issues often arise in dissolution of marriage proceedings.  These issues must be resolved before the dissolution of marriage can be granted.  Piel v. Piel, 918 SW2d 373 (ED, 1996)

In the past, an additional count was usually added to the dissolution of marriage proceeding raising the paternity issues.  In August, 2009, the law relating to the confidentiality of records in family court matters went into effect.  Dissolution of marriage proceedings were required to be open to the public, and paternity proceeding were required to be closed to the public.  Both types of cases could not exist in the same file.

On January 1, 2010, Missouri Supreme Court Operating Rule 4.05(3) became effective , and required that dissolution of marriage and paternity cases be filed separately and have separate cause numbers.  St. Louis County and other jurisdictions enacted local rules that allowed separate paternity proceedings to be filed without paying an additional filing fee.

Paternity issues arise in dissolution of marriage proceedings much more frequently today.  They present special problems for pro se litigants.  I have prepared an interactive worksheet to help correctly address these issues.  To use this form, you must view it using Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat.

Dissolution Paternity Flowchart

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