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When a couple is married, and one spouse gives birth, Minnesota law states the other spouse is legally presumed to be the baby’s parent. (While that law was written with heterosexual couples in mind, it also applies to same-sex married couples.) This presumption of parentage also applies for a child born within 280 days after the termination of a marriage. Of course, many couples are not married at the time their child is born, and sometimes, the mother’s spouse or recent ex-spouse is not her child’s biological parent. In those situations, it is necessary to establish paternity of the child.
Establishing paternity is the legal process of identifying a child’s biological father. A person can be a biological parent without being a legal parent, and vice versa. When paternity is established, a biological father is also identified as a legal father. (“Establishing parentage” is the more gender-neutral term for legally establishing a person as a child’s parent.)
Without establishing paternity, a biological father and child do not have the legal rights that we think of parents and children having with respect to each other. A biological father who has not established paternity of his child has no right to custody or parenting time, and the child has no right to receive child support or any government benefits to which they might be entitled through their father, such as Social Security. If the father or child should die without a will, neither would have the legal right to inherit from each other.
On a more intangible level, establishing paternity can strengthen the bond between a father and child. In addition to giving them legal rights, establishing paternity is a sort of declaration that a father and child belong to each other. While establishing paternity doesn’t guarantee a strong relationship between father and child, it can be a contributing factor.
Establishing paternity is a legal process, but that doesn’t mean it requires court action. There are two ways that paternity can be legally established in Minnesota.
The simplest way for parents who are not married to each other to establish the father’s paternity is to complete a Recognition of Parentage form. This is a document that is signed by both parents, and then filed with the Office of Vital Records at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. If the form is filed at the hospital after the birth, the hospital files it.
Filing the signed document is critical; without doing so, the form has no legal effect. After the Recognition of Parentage is signed and filed, the Office of Vital Records lists the man’s name as the father on the child’s official birth certificate. However, if one or both parents is under the age of 18, signing the Recognition of Parentage only creates a presumption of parentage, and court action will be required to finalize the determination of paternity.
Completing a Recognition of Parentage is a good option for unmarried parents who are confident about their child’s biological parentage and want to establish the legal rights that go with parenthood. However, if there is any doubt about whether the alleged father is in fact the biological father, it may be unwise to sign a Recognition of Parentage.
By signing a Recognition of Parentage, an alleged father waives the right to have genetic testing and have a trial before he is declared the child’s legal father. Parents who have signed a Recognition of Parentage do have 60 days after signing in which to revoke it. Otherwise, they have a year in which to take court action to have the form revoked.
If a mother and alleged father are not both willing to execute a Recognition of Parentage, the only way to establish paternity is through a court action. Either parent may start a lawsuit to establish paternity. For instance, a mother may file a court action so that she can get child support from the man she claims is her child’s father, or an alleged father may file a lawsuit to establish paternity so that he can then seek custody of or parenting time with his child.
If a parent or alleged parent goes to court to seek to establish paternity, the court will hold a hearing and may order genetic testing to prove or disprove the man’s paternity if that issue is in dispute. An establishment of paternity does not automatically convey custody or support rights. However, it creates a legal foundation for a parent to pursue child custody or child support.
A court case to establish paternity in Minnesota may also be initiated by the county attorney, if either parent receives public assistance for the child, or if a parent, makes a request through child support services to establish paternity.
There is no time limit in Minnesota by which a parent must establish paternity. However, if you wish to establish paternity, the sooner you act, the better for all concerned. And in some situations, you must act quickly to preserve your rights. For instance, if you are an unmarried biological father of a child who will soon be born or has just been born, you have only 30 days after the birth to place your name on the Minnesota Fathers’ Adoption Registry to prevent the child from being placed for adoption without your consent. Putting your name on the MFAR does not establish paternity, but it can protect your rights so that you have the chance to establish paternity.
To learn more about fathers’ rights and paternity in Minnesota, contact Mundahl Law at 763-575-7930 to schedule a consultation.