Fatherhood is an important aspect of many people’s lives. When parents hope to provide positive life experiences for their children, this often means developing a healthy child-parent relationship and providing access to a quality education and health care. But not having custody or visitation rights can make this quite difficult for fathers to do.

Thankfully, there are a couple different routes fathers, who don’t marry their child’s other parent, can take to establish paternity in the state of Missouri. In fact, you can seek legal rights as a father whether you already have a child or are expecting one and with or without a court hearing.

Voluntary form

When fathers have a baby on the way, they can establish paternity at the child’s birth. When both parents sign a form or affidavit acknowledging paternity at the hospital, the father’s name will appear on the child’s birth certificate. However, if you are months or years out from your child’s birth, you can still voluntarily establish paternity by contacting the state’s Family Support Division and filling out the same form. A paternity acknowledgement form filed after your child’s birth requires signatures from both parents too.

Court hearing

If the mother of a father’s child is unwilling to sign this form, the father can seek legal status as the child’s parent by taking the matter to court. The father will have to file a form known as the father’s petition for declaration of paternity. It’s worth noting that ahead of the hearing where a judge decides to grant or not grant paternity rights, a pretrial hearing will take place. After the pretrial hearing, a judge might ask for the father to take a genetic test or the parents to fulfill mediation. And at the final hearing, you have a chance to show documents and have witnesses share reasons why you should receive paternity rights.

Understanding legal forms and the court process can quickly become dizzying. But a family law attorney can help you earn the outcome you deserve.