Partners who have cohabitated and have entered into joint financial transactions, or who are co-parents to a child, often need legal assistance to establish their co-parenting relationship and/or conclude their financial affairs. The applicable laws and procedures are different than those for married parties.
- Establishing You are a Parent.
- Fathers who are not married to the mother of their child can create a presumption that they are the biological father by adding their name, by affidavit, to the birth certificate. When that is not possible, fathers can register with Missouri’s putative father’s registry. A presumption is not a legal declaration of parentage. Sometimes it is also possible to initiate a child support case with the state that result in establishing the biological father of the child. Fathers can also file a paternity action in civil court, which is discussed below.
- Mothers who are not married to the father of their child can initiate a child support case with the state which will result in establishing paternity or the biological father of the child. Mothers may also file a paternity actions in circuit court where support will be established as well as custody orders, if requested by one of the parents.
- So Why is a Paternity Action necessary at Court? Paternity actions establish the biological father of the minor child for all legal purposes. Once a judgment of paternity is entered by the court, the minor child is the biological child of the father and his legal heir. Paternity actions at court also establish other orders affecting the parents and the child, including parenting rights (the parenting time schedule and decision-making by the parents), financial support of the minor child, the sharing of costs related to the birth and care of the child; and the legal name of the child. Child support orders entered by the State of Missouri also establish the biological and legal parents of the child but, generally, such matters only establish child support obligations do not include entry of a parenting plan.
- Are there other ways to obtain a Parenting Plan? Establishing the biological parents of the child, without other action by the court, does not create a parenting plan or rights regarding care or custody of the child. A parenting plan is a legal judgment from the court which details each parent’s rights and obligations to spend time with, make decisions for, and communicate about the child. Agreements about these issues which are not part of a court order are not enforceable.
- Co-Parenting. Parents who have not been married often need to create rules and rights regarding the time each parent will spend with the child; how decisions for their child will be made; and how expenses for their child will be paid. This is called a “Parenting Plan.” Most parenting plans are eventually established by agreement of the parents. Agreement can be reached through a mediator (see also MARCH Mediation in Missouri) or through negotiation between the parents. The most important point about co-parenting is that parents learn to communicate information about their child in a manner that is not angry or personal. Research indicates that children who are surrounded by conflict between their parents are at higher risk for emotional and mental health issues; academic and social challenges; and even physical ailment. Mediation and co-parenting counseling or classes can help both parents develop the skills required to communicate better.
- Separating Assets and Debts. Although some unmarried individuals create contracts and agreements regarding the assets they share, most do not. Unlike the married individuals, Missouri has no uniform statutes or rules regarding property or transactions between unmarried partners. As a result, separating the property and debts of never married parties can be complex and may require file pleadings with multiple claims related to different transactions. Unmarried partners who have entered a co-habitation agreement may seek to enforce the rights and obligations outlined in the agreement. Partners interested in exploring a co-habitation agreement should consult with an attorney.
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