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Missouri fathers could lose rights with new Senate bill - Part 1

A six-year custody battle has resulted in a new bill going through the Missouri General Assembly and is currently on its way to the State Senate. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled on a child custody case involving an unmarried father who was waiting for the results of a DNA test before putting his name on the child's birth certificate. What many men may not know is that in the state of Missouri a father must officially declare paternity within 15 days of the birth if his child.

More than 15 days had passed while the father was waiting for the DNA results and now he is fighting for his parental rights to gain custody of his child, who has since been adopted by an out of state couple. The child was originally placed in temporary custody of the couple who agreed to help the mother and planned to permanently adopt the child. A petition for transfer of custody and adoption was filed by the couple. The petition stated the father was unknown and the mother had agreed to the adoption.

When the father heard about the adoption proceedings, he filed with the putative father registry and had his child's birth certificate changed naming him as the father. He then attempted to stop the adoption claiming his parental rights as the father of the child. That battle lasted six years and the father finally gained custody of his child late last summer.

This new bill aims to allow an adoption of a child without the father's consent if he has not previously demonstrated a consistent and substantial relationship with his child. What that exactly means has not been defined in current Missouri law, and this bill seeks to clearly define the actions needed for a father to meet those guidelines. Specifically it states unless actively prevented from doing so by the mother, the father must provide the following:

• Prenatal financial support on a consistent basis

• Pay for prenatal and natal medical care expenses for both mother and baby

• Pay child support, the amount to be based on his income

• Stay in regular contact and visitation with his child

Watch for our next post on the pros and cons of the bill as debated by lawmakers, one of which includes what happens when a father is not told about his having fathered a child. Father's rights have never been more precarious in our state so it is more important than ever for unmarried fathers who want to be a parent to understand what they are up against.

Source: CBS St. Louis, "Fathers of Illegitimate Children Would Lose Rights to Adoption," Josie Butler, April 10, 2012

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