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Paternity

A paternity or parentage action is the legal process to establish a father’s parental relationship with a child. Paternity means fatherhood. The purpose of a paternity action in Minnesota is to judicially determine parentage and determine additional parental rights and responsibilities.

As an unmarried parent, when it comes to your child, formally establishing paternity is the first step in determining everything else (custody, parenting time, decision-making authority, and child support). These actions help both parents establish rules moving forward regarding the child’s schedule and various financial considerations.

A paternity action can be started any time, even before a child is born. A mother, a father, the State of Minnesota, or even a child (or a child’s representative) can bring such a proceeding.

Paternity actions can be a tricky, especially if there is more than one possible father. Minnesota statutory presumptions and prerequisites can be confusing. All parties need to follow applicable requirements and timelines.

Common Questions About Minnesota Paternity Laws

I’m not married to my child’s mother. Do I have any parental rights?

A parent-child relationship may exist regardless of the marital status of the parents. However, in Minnesota, if the parents are not married at the time of the child’s conception or birth, the biological mother will have sole custody, by statute, until paternity or custody has been established in a separate proceeding.

Once a father’s paternity has been recognized or established, he may petition for rights of custody or parenting time. Upon such a petition, the proceeding is treated as an initial determination of custody for that child.  No heightened evidentiary burdens apply to either party.  The fact that the parents of the child are not or were never married is not determinative of the custody of the child.

Is a court order the only way to establish paternity?

No. A mother and father of a child may sign a notarized document called a recognition of parentage, which is then filed with the state registrar of vital statistics, to acknowledge, under oath, that they are the biological parents of a child.

If the child has a presumed father under a statute, that man may join in the signing of a recognition of parentage form to acknowledge that another man is the biological father. A joinder like this must be executed within one year of the child’s birth to be valid.

Unless a judicial proceeding determines otherwise, a validly-executed recognition of parentage has the force and effect of a court order establishing paternity.  If there are no competing presumptions of paternity, once a recognition has been properly executed and filed, the court may not allow additional action to determine paternity.  An action to determine custody and parenting time can be started without the need for any formal adjudication of paternity.

A recognition of parentage form is the basis for bringing an action to award temporary or permanent custody, parenting time, child support, and possible contributions toward the mother’s pregnancy and birth expenses.

Additional Minnesota Paternity Questions & Answers

A man is presumed to be the father of a child if:

  • He and the child’s mother are married to each other and the child is born during the marriage or within 280 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • He and the child’s mother attempted to marry each other; and he has acknowledged his paternity in a formal writing, he is named the child’s father on the birth certificate, or he is obligated to provide financial support for the child;
  • He receives the child into his home and openly holds the child out as his own;
  • He and the mother acknowledge his paternity in a formal writing, which is then filed with the state registrar of vital records
  • He and the child’s mother have executed a recognition of parentage form, but there are competing presumptions of paternity or competing recognition forms
  • He and the child’s mother executed a recognition of parentage form, but both were minors at the time

If one of the above presumptions applies, it may be rebutted in certain circumstances, including a court decree adjudicating another man as the child’s biological father.

A putative or alleged father generally means a man who has not established a legal relationship with a child, but who may be or claims to be a biological father.

An adjudicated father is one based upon a judgment or order of the court determining the existence of the parent-child relationship.

Each of the above definitions carries its own set of legal consequences.

The Minnesota Commissioner of Health is required to establish and maintain a Father’s Adoption Registry.  The purpose of the registry is to allow possible biological fathers (not yet established as legal fathers) to receive notice of a pending adoption proceeding for their children, thus allowing them to participate in that process.

No adoption may be granted in the State of Minnesota unless a search of the Registry is first completed to determine whether any putative father may be or should be a party.

Except for putative fathers who are specifically entitled to notice and consent under the adoption statutes, a putative father who fails to timely register on the Registry is barred from later bringing an action to assert an interest in the child and is considered to have abandoned that child.

Any putative father may sign up on the Registry, and there is no fee to do so.  Registration must occur within 30 days after the birth of the child.

No.  A mother and father of a child may sign a notarized document called a recognition of parentage, which is then filed with the state registrar of vital statistics, to acknowledge under oath that they are the biological parents of a child.

If the child has a presumed father under a statute, that man may join in the signing of a recognition of parentage form to acknowledge that another man is the biological father.  A joinder like this must be executed within one year of the child’s birth to be valid.

Unless a judicial proceeding determines otherwise, a validly-executed recognition of parentage has the force and effect of a court order establishing paternity.  If there are no competing presumptions of paternity, once a recognition has been properly executed and filed, the court may not allow additional action to determine paternity.  An action to determine custody and parenting time can be started without the need for any formal adjudication of paternity.

A recognition of parentage form is the basis for bringing an action to award temporary or permanent custody, parenting time, child support, and possible contributions toward the mother’s pregnancy and birth expenses.

A recognition of parentage may be revoked in a sworn writing within 60 days of its execution or the date of the first hearing concerning the child, whichever is earlier.

Otherwise, an action to vacate a recognition of parentage form must be brought by the mother or father within one year of the execution of the form or within six months after the person bringing the action obtains a genetic test that indicates an error.  A child must bring an action to vacate within six months after the child obtains a genetic test that indicates an error, or within one year of reaching the age of majority, whichever is later.

A parent-child relationship may exist regardless of the marital status of the parents.  However, in Minnesota, if the parents are not married at the time of the child’s conception or birth, the biological mother will have sole custody, by statute, until paternity or custody has been established in a separate proceeding.

Once a father’s paternity has been recognized or established, he may petition for rights of custody or parenting time.  Upon such a petition, the proceeding is treated as an initial determination of custody for that child.  No heightened evidentiary burdens apply to either party.  The fact that the parents of the child are not or were never married is not determinative of the custody of the child.

No. The County may bring an action to establish parentage and a child support obligation.  In addition, if the mother and father agree, in that same proceeding, the following may be established: legal and physical custody, parenting time, and the child’s legal name. However, the County does not represent either party on any of these issues. The County’s interest is to establish and enforce appropriate child support only.

Yes.  The court can require the child, the mother, and any alleged father to submit to blood or genetic tests.  In Minnesota, a 99% or greater probability following a genetic test creates an evidentiary presumption that the alleged father is the biological father of the child. 

There is a distinct difference between an action to declare the existence of a father-child relationship and an action to declare the non-existence of a father-child relationship.

If a man is presumed to be a child’s father under a statutory presumption, a paternity action may be brought at any time to formally adjudicate that relationship.

If there is no presumed father, a paternity action may be commenced within one year after the child reaches the age of majority (18 in Minnesota.)

However, if the purpose of the action is to establish the non-existence of a presumed father-child relationship, the action must be brought within two years after determining there is reason to question the presumed father, but in no event after the child’s third birthday.

The only exception to the 3-year rule above is if the presumed father was divorced from the child’s mother and did not know that a child was born within 280 days after the marriage ended.  In that particular circumstance, an action may be brought within one year after the child reaches age 18 or one year after the presumed father should have known about the birth of the child, whichever is earlier.

Otherwise, the three-year limitation period is an absolute bar to an action to declare non-paternity, even if subsequent genetic testing reveals that the presumed father cannot be the biological father.

If a man is presumed to be a father specifically because he signed a recognition of parentage, any action to declare the non-existence of the father-child relationship must be brought within six months after the signor obtains genetic testing indicating non-paternity.

Yes.  A paternity action can be commenced before a child is born.  However, very few actual steps can be taken.  Service of process can be achieved, and depositions may be taken to preserve testimony.  Otherwise, the action will be stayed until the birth of the child. 

A paternity adjudication order may contain provisions concerning custody, parenting time, child support, the child’s name, and any other matter in the best interests of the child.  A paternity order is the basis to establish all of these additional rights and responsibilities concerning a child.

Following any judicial proceeding to establish paternity, if the court’s judgment or order differs from the information on the child’s birth record, a new birth record must be issued by the registrar of vital statistics.

No. A separate paternity action is not necessary. A claim regarding paternity may be brought as part of a marriage dissolution, legal separation, custody, or child support action. In other words, as an alleged or presumed father, you can bring one action to establish paternity, legal custody, physical custody, parenting time, and child support.