The Basic Law for Paternity in St Louis

A father’s rights to his child are not automatic, as they are with the mother. In order to have visitation and custody rights, the father must establish paternity. Here’s a very basic rundown of the law and a description of the Court process for paternity in St Louis.

Paternity through Marriage:

Paternity happens automatically when the father and mother are married when the child is born. So if you’re married, then you’re considered the legal father. It is what legal beagles call “imputed”. If you were married but not the father of the child, then you have to be specifically released from parentage in the divorce. This is used occasionally where the mother moved on before the divorce was finalized.

Paternity through Court:

If you were not married when the child was born, then you do not automatically have visitation or custody rights to the child. It’s true that the father’s name can be on the birth certificate. However, that does not create a right.

Further confusing the situation is when parents take “paternity tests” through the state and get awards of child support. These are administrative actions. While they will name you as the biological dad, and also will create a child support obligation, they do not create enforceable custody and visitation rights for the father.

In order to have those rights, the father must file a Petition for Paternity, Support, Visitation and Custody with the Court. The parties will then litigate all of the issues there, and the result is a legal Judgment that is fully enforceable by either parent.

What to Expect in Court

How long does a paternity in St Louis take? What happens in Court? Do I have to show up? Clients have a lot of questions when they are beginning their case. It’s common for people who have not had a lot of experience with the Court system. Understanding what to expect will go a long way to reduce your anxiety.

First of all, you can expect a “friendly” paternity action to take around 2 months. If you and the mother are in agreement beforehand and simply want to legalize your arrangements, then you are in a similar situation as someone wanting a non-contested divorce. If we are negotiating the terms of custody, support and visitation, then you can expect it to take around 6 months to a year.

The first thing that happens is someone files a Petition. This kick starts the case. The other party is served. Hopefully at this point they both have attorneys. All of the required Court paperwork is submitted, such as the Income and Expense Report, Statement of Assets and Debts, Parenting Plan, and any needed Pretrial Motions.

At this point the negotiation begins between the two parties’ attorneys. Unlike criminal law, this is rarely a winner takes all situation. It might take a while to work through all of the issues, but in 90% of the cases, the parties will reach a settlement. In the other 10% of the cases, a trial will be held. The Judge typically acts as the jury. He or she will hear the evidence, witnesses, and testimony of the parents, and then decide upon custody, support, and the visitation schedule.

Your Next Step

If you have more questions about establishing paternity in St Louis or the metropolitan area, contact my office for a free consultation. My firm is accepting cases in St Louis, Jefferson County, and Saint Charles Counties. You may contact me via telephone at 314-782-3500 or via e-mail at

Contact me for a free assessment of your case.