Dad and I aren't married and we have a child. If we break up, should I file a paternity action?
Updated: May 19, 2021
As a mother, the short answer is no. Why? If you and the father aren't married, he has no legal rights to the child, including visitation rights. It doesn't matter if his name is on the birth certificate or that you've acknowledged he is the father or if you have established paternity with the state of Missouri and are receiving child support. If the father shows up at your door with birth certificate in hand and a law enforcement officer demanding the child, politely tell them to leave. Cops aren't lawyers. Some know the rules regarding child custody, but most do not.
That means as an unwed mother, you can allow visitation of the child whenever you choose, if you wish to do so at all. When any mother of a young child calls my office and wants to file for paternity, custody and visitation, I ask her what benefit she thinks she will gain. Most of the time, there are few, if any. She can file for child support for the child through the state and it costs nothing. The state can only establish a child support order, so no order for visitation or custody will accompany the order. Keep in mind a support order does not necessarily mean dad is going to pay. And consider the fact if you file for child support, dad may then hire a lawyer and file a paternity suit on behalf of the child.
Keep in mind this advice applies to children of all ages, but if you and the father have an older child and have established a pattern of custody and visitation by agreement for many months or years, my advice is don't deny custody for no reason. If you begin to deny all contact without cause (abuse, neglect, substance abuse issues, etc.), if dad then files a paternity action, the judge will likely not be happy with you.
The bottom line is an unwed mother does not need to rush to a lawyer to establish visitation and support. Most lawyers won't tell you that because they just want your money. If you've read my previous posts, I'll tell you if you need a lawyer or not. Sometimes, you don't.
As usual, Schuyler is the sole author of this post.