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Basics on Paternity - Being a "Legal" Father



What is "paternity?"

"Paternity" is the term used to refer to the "legal" father of a child under Minnesota law. Once a man is established as the "legal" father of a child, he has an obligation to financially support the child and he may ask a court order for custody and parenting time.

Every child has a biological father, but not every child has a "legal" father. Under Minnesota law, if a child's mom and dad are not married to each other when the child is born, the dad is not recognized as the "legal" father until someone takes legal steps to establish his paternity. He has no legal rights to the child or responsibilities to financially support the child, even if his name is on the child's birth certificate. The birth certificate alone is not enough to establish who is the "legal" father.


How can a man become the "legal" father of a child if he is not married to the mother?

If a man is not married to a child's mother when the child is born, he can become the "legal" father through the"Recognition of Parentage" (ROP)process or by Court Order. For more details, click on the link below that most closely matches your situation:

  1. An unmarried mother and father can sign a Recognition of Parentage ("ROP") form form stating that they are the biological parents, and then file that form with the MN Dept. of Health.
  2. If you and the other parent disagree on who is the biological father of the child; OR an unmarried parent wants to get a court order for child support, custody, or parenting time, read How to Establish Paternity by Court Order.

Resources on becoming a "legal" father:


A mother in Minnesota who was not married at the time of her child's birth has sole custody until a Court issues a custody order.

By law, a mother who is not married at the time of her child's birth has sole custody of the child until a court issues a custody order, even if a father's name appears on the child's birth certificate. See Child Custody & Parenting Time for more details on how to get a court order for custody.


The law presumes that a husband is the "legal" father of a child born to his wife during the marriage.

If a woman is married and has a child by someone other than her husband, Minnesota law automatically presumes that her husband is the father and he will be legally responsible for the child until paternity is established with the other man. The biological father has no legal rights or financial obligations to the child, unless he is established to be the "legal" father.


Genetic Testing

If you want a genetic test to find out if you are the biological father of a child, you might not need a court order if the mother agrees to do the testing. If the parties agree, they can arrange for testing on their own.

A court may order genetic testing at the request of a public agency (e.g., Social Services, Child Support Office, etc.) or on its own initiative to show whether an alleged father is actually the biological father of a child.

A mother or alleged father may also ask the court to order genetic tests, but they must file an Affidavit (sworn statement) listing detailed facts that show there is a reasonable possibility that there was (or was not) sufficient sexual contact between the alleged father and the child's mother to conceive a child. See the law at MN Statute § 257.62 subd.1. Your County Child Support Office may have more information on genetic testing.

NOTE: The MN Judicial Branch does NOT publish forms and instructions to ask the court to order genetic testing. You should talk with a lawyer about your legal options and how to prepare the court papers.

If you have already signed a Recognition of Parentage form with the child's mother (usually at the Hospital or at the Child Support Office), you and the mother have voluntarily admitted that you are the biological father. If you now think that you may not be the father, your case is much more complicated, and you should talk with a lawyer about your legal options. You should also talk with a lawyer if there is a court Order stating that you are the legal father, and now you want genetic testing.


Father's Adoption Registry

If you think you may be the father of a child born to a woman who is not your wife, but paternity has not yet been established by a "Recognition of Parentage" form or court order, you can register with the MN Father's Adoption Registry no later than 30 days after the child's birth. The registry makes it possible for you to be notified if a Petition for Adoption of the child is ever filed in a Minnesota court.


Do you need court-ordered custody or child support?

Some unmarried parents can cooperate in raising their child without court orders on custody, support and parenting time. However, parents may want to take legal action when problems arise such as:

  • who may enroll the child in school and authorize medical treatment
  • the parent with primary custody may need financial support
  • a parent may need help getting adequate pareting time with the child
  • a parent may have serious concerns about the other parent's ability to safely care for the child

Signing a "Recognition of Parentage" form does not create any custody rights or support obligations. You need a court order to get custody or support. Read Child Custody & Parenting Time or Child Support for more information on those topics.


What if your child has an open CHIPS or Juvenile Delinquency case?

If your child is the subject of a Juvenile Court case (e.g., child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) or delinquency), it is possible that the Family Court may not be able to immediately decide custody in a separate case involving the child.


Going to Court without a lawyer?

You may represent yourself in a paternity case, however, we strongly encourage you to get legal advice from an attorney, especially if the mother and alleged father do not agree on paternity (and custody or support). The County Attorney's Office might be able to help you establish paternity to get child support.

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