“Paternity” means fatherhood. In the legal sense, “establishing paternity” refers to the determination of a child’s “legal” father and the related rights and obligations of the father to the child. Every child has a biological father, but not every child has a “legal” father. In Minnesota, if the mother and father are not married to each other when their child is born, the father is not the “legal” father until paternity is established. Until paternity is established, the father has no rights to or responsibilities toward the child, even if his name is on the birth certificate.
Paternity is automatically established if the parents are married to each other when the child is born. The husband is presumed to be the legal father and his name will be on the child’s birth certificate, unless a court determines that the husband is not the father.
If you have questions about paternity in Minnesota, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
In Minnesota, paternity can be established either “voluntarily” or “involuntarily.”
When the mother and father agree that the father is in fact the biological father, paternity can be established voluntarily. To voluntarily establish paternity, both the father and mother must sign before a notary what’s called the “Recognition of Parentage Form.” Both parents have to sign the same form, but they don’t have to sign it at the same time. It is common for both parents to sign the Recognition of Parentage Form in the hospital when the child is born. The Recognition of Parentage Form can also be completed at a later date. Once signed, the form must be filed with the Minnesota Department of Health. Signing and filing the form is free. Paternity is only established once the Recognition of Parentage Form is filed.
If the mother was married to a man who is not the biological father when the child was born, the Recognition of Parentage Form alone is not enough to establish paternity. The mother’s husband must also sign a separate form called the “Husband’s Non-Paternity Statement” within one year of the child’s birth. This form must also be filed with the Minnesota Department of Health. Once the forms are properly completed and filed with the Department of Health, the father is established as the “legal” father and the child’s birth certificate will be updated to include the father’s name.
Involuntary establishment of paternity is done through a court proceeding where the court issues an “order of filiation,” which is just another way of saying paternity. This method is called “involuntary” because someone disputes paternity, which is why it becomes a court issue. Either the mother or father may file a court action to establish paternity. If the child is receiving public assistance, a Minnesota County Attorney may also file a paternity suit on behalf of the public.
The person seeking to establish paternity is called the “petitioner” and the other parent is the “defendant.” To start a paternity case, the petitioner must file papers in the local District Court where the child or defendant resides.
Genetic or DNA testing may be required if the alleged father questions or denies that the child is his. If he is found to be the father, the court will usually order him to pay all or part of the costs of the test. If the court determines that the father is in fact the biological father, then the court will issue an order of filiation, making the biological father the “legal” father.
Establishing paternity means more than just having a father named on the child’s birth certificate. There are certain rights for both the father and the child that come with a determination of paternity.
In Minnesota, if the parents of a child were never married, the mother has sole legal and physical custody until a court order says differently. Only once paternity is established can the father ask a court for custody of or visitation with his child if he and the mother can’t agree between themselves. Similarly, once paternity is established, the father is entitled to notice and a say in whether the child can be adopted.
After establishing paternity, a father can also put the child on his medical and dental insurance to cover the child’s health care needs. Similarly, once paternity is established, the child is entitled to support from the father, so a court order for child support can be obtained. A child might also be able to benefit from the father’s life insurance benefits as well as Social Security and Veteran’s Benefits. Furthermore, both the father and the child will be entitled to inheritance rights should one of them pass away before the other.
For the text of the statute governing the processes of establishing paternity, see Minn. Stat. Ann. § 257-257.75.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services also publishes an informative booklet, Being a Legal Father: Parentage Information for Mothers and Fathers.
The Minnesota Courts’ Self Help Center website also provides information and links to forms and resources about paternity.