When Unmarried Dad Thinks He Is Not Dad: He Has An Option
Under Missouri law, an unmarried father can sign an Affidavit acknowledging his paternity of a child. Most often, such Affidavits are signed at the hospital shortly after the birth of a child. By law, to be a binding acknowledgement of paternity, the “father” must be given information about the effect of admitting paternity and the Affidavit must be signed in the presence of a notary public.
The information given about the effect of signing the Affidavit may be a little as giving the man a toll-free number to call. The impact of signing the Affidavit can be far-reaching. The Affidavit constitutes the basis for an Order that the “father” pay child support, carry medical insurance and contribute to medical and dental expenses that are not covered by or reimbursed by insurance. The acknowledgement of paternity could also be the basis for an Order that the “father” contribute to the child’s college education. Failure to pay child support can have serious consequences, from garnishment of wages and bank accounts to the seizure and sale of cars and boats to the involuntary sale of real estate to satisfy back due child support.
Despite the clear language of the law, the State of Missouri has created and widely distributed a form Affidavit that does not even have a space for the signature of a notary; rather, spaces for two witnesses to sign are provided.
In a recent case in St. Louis County, Missouri, a judge found that a man who signed an Affidavit of Paternity was permitted to challenge paternity because he was given no information about the legal consequences of signing the form. The Judge ruled that the man’s name had to be removed from the child’s birth certificate. As such, paternity testing will be required for the man to be named the child’s legal father. This is a significant development in the law regarding unmarried fathers who, having signed an Affidavit of Paternity in a daze after the birth of a child, now doubt paternity.
The case in which this finding was made is confidential, as it involves paternity, but the message is clear: any man who signed an Affidavit of Paternity without first receiving information about the consequences of doing so has options to challenge the establishment of paternity by an Affidavit of Paternity.