UNWED PARENTS IN MISSOURI:
BEFORE YOU SIGN THAT PATERNITY/BIRTH CERTIFICATE AFFIDAVIT, PLEASE READ THIS …
First in a Series
By Alan W. Cohen
Attorney at Law
For all you Trekkies, signing the birth affidavit of a child born out of wedlock is like entering a legal nebula, a cluster of energy where logic, reason and common sense dare not enter, for almost nothing is what it seems.
Under Missouri law, two things are required before a birth affidavit is valid. First, the document is an affidavit, and by birth affidavit statute, that means it must be notarized. Second, prior to signing the document, someone – although the statute is unclear as to how – is supposed to inform you of the legal and actual consequences of your signature.
Since this statute became law in 1997, no one has followed it. In fact, it is the stated policy of the State Registrar to accept birth affidavit forms without a notarization, or without proof that you were given legal information to make an informed choice as your legal rights. Moreover, the form the Registrar adopted is geared to trick you. Under the signature, the person that signs states they have been advised of the legal obligations and FULLY UNDERSTANDS THEIR LEGAL RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS.
Well here is the rub, or the conundrum, if you want to use legal jargon: How can you know your legal rights and obligations if no one ever told you. For this, the state has an answer. The Registrar has created a two-part form that hospital personnel are supposed to give to new parents shortly after birth of their child. The Registrar depends on hospital personnel to handle this truly legal process. See a problem with that?
Would you trust a lawyer to give a medical diagnosis, or even change a bed pan? I think not. And there is good reason not to trust hospital personnel. Many, if not most, new parents never see the page that is supposed to contain information about their legal rights. And, on top of that, the form was created by the Family Support Division, an agency, not an attorney, that is trying to convince them to sign the form and acknowledge paternity. Finally, on this page that people rarely see is a phone number to learn about their legal rights. If they call the number, they get a recording at the Family Support Division. And, moreover, the information from the message is misleading and plain wrong.
In fact, the consequences for signing this form can be extremely dangerous.
So, before you sign, use your common sense. Contact an attorney to make an educated decision about your legal rights and obligations. For more information, please continue to read this series, or check out my website.
Alan W. Cohen is an attorney licensed in the State Missouri who has practiced primarily in the area of Family Law for more than 20 years. His office is located in Clayton (a suburb of St. Louis).
Visit his website at: alanwcohen.com
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