There’s a potential irony in the Missouri family law system that has caught a lot of fathers off guard when it comes to issues of child custody and visitation rights. That irony lies in how the court defines your connection to the child; and as many fathers are finding out, it’s this definition that is causing all of the problems.
Consider for a moment an unmarried couple who has a child together. If the couple separates, who gains custody of the child? Would marriage have changed this outcome? Does the father have any rights? It’s questions like this that are asked by fathers across the nation, including here in Missouri, and are only answered when parentage is established. But even then, dads can run into problems.
As some of our readers may not know, in a scenario such as the one above, a father must first prove that the child is biologically his before he has any hope of securing parental rights. Once this happens, then the father is allowed to fight for custody and visitation. Unfortunately for a lot of dads across the state though, this process can be incredibly expensive and may not be possible for people with low income.
According to Missouri law, once a father establishes paternity then he may be forced to pay child support through a court order. By all accounts of the law, he is considered the father for child support purposes but unfortunately, this is where he enters into a sort of legal limbo. That’s because the courts may still not recognize him as the father for purposes of child custody and visitation.
This can be incredibly frustrating for low-income fathers who do not have the financial means to obtain a lawyer. Unfortunately, without the help of a lawyer, they are pitted against a legal system they may not understand and a process they may not be able to navigate on their own. So in the end, although they are paying child support, they may not be allowed to see their child or gain custody of them without litigation.
Source: St. Louis Public Radio, “Are Fathers’ Rights Fair And Equitable In Missouri?” Camille Phillips, Nov. 5, 2013