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“Paternity” refers to the process of establishing legal rights to children born outside of marriage. Many people do not realize that parents of children born outside of marriage do not have the same rights of custody as parents of children born during marriage. In Missouri and Illinois, as in most states, when a child is born outside of marriage, without taking appropriate legal measures, a mother in this situation has no ability to make the father of her child pay child support, and the father has no ability to make the mother of his child provide custodial access.
Paternity issues usually arise in three situations: when a mother wants the presumed father of her child to help financially support the child; when a putative father wants to have legal and physical custody rights to his child; and when a father under an administrative duty of child support, perhaps because the mother did no more than list his name on the birth certificate, wants to challenge his status as the father of the child.
Both mothers and fathers have time issues to consider, as the law places time limits to claim all financial support dating not only to the time of birth but also for pregnancy related expenses, and also on the time to challenge parentage.
If parentage becomes a disputed issue, the court will likely require DNA testing to establish whether a putative father is in fact the natural father of the child or children at issue.
Once a party files a paternity action, that party can seek an order of financial support alone, or also orders with regard to legal and physical custody. Judgments with regard to custody and support in a paternity case follow the same standards used to make those decisions in a dissolution of marriage action.