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Legally defining a child's father can be complicated

Establishing paternity following the birth of a child is important for all parties involved: the mother, the father and especially the child. In most cases of children born during a Missouri marriage, the father is "presumed" to be the husband in the marriage. But, there are other ways a father is "presumed," as well as other ways a father may be classified, including an "acknowledged father," an "equitable father" and an "unwed father." So, what are the differences, and how are they classified?

A "presumed father" is a father who was either married to the mother at the time of the child's conception or birth. In addition, the presumed father may be one that was attempting to marry the mother at the time of the child's conception or birth, or married to the mother after the time of the child's birth and agreed to have his name on the child's birth certificate. Finally, the presumed father could simply be one that welcomed the child into his home and holds the child openly as his own.

An "acknowledged father," on the other hand, is a father who willingly admits he is the father of a child born out of wedlock. An "unwed father" must acknowledge his paternity and have it confirmed from the mother before someone else is declared the "presumed father."

Lastly, an "equitable father" is a man who is neither the biological or adoptive father of the child, but someone who has a close relationship with the child and has the support and acknowledgement from the biological parents. Courts may grant the "equitable father" equitable custodial rights.

As is the common mantra in the courts, decisions are made to protect the best interests of the child. With the potential of child support, custodial rights and visitation rights on the line, it is important for fathers to establish paternity not only for the child's sake, but also to protect the rights of the father.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Paternity Suits FAQ," accessed on April 12, 2016

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