The response to COVID-19 has impacted access to courthouses and may change the way cases are handled.
Learn more »

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.
 

"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 for a court order for custody and parenting time.
 
While every child has a biological father, establishment of a legal father is not always automatic. Under Minnesota law, if a child's biological mother and biological father are not married to each other when the child is born, the biological father is not recognized as the legal father until someone takes legal steps to establish paternity. The biological father 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 a legal father.
 
For a more detailed overview, watch the Establishing Parentage video from the MN Department of Human Services.

Adjudication of Paternity

A court judgment naming the legal father of a child. Once a person is "adjudicated" the legal father, they are required to financially support the child and can ask the court for custody and parenting time rights.

Alleged Father

A person who might be the biological father of a child, based on testimony or other evidence. An alleged father can become the legal father after an adjudication of paternity.

Child Support

A payment made by one parent to the other parent for the purpose of supporting the child. Each legal parent is required to financially support their child. When parents do not live together, one parent may be ordered by the court to pay child support to the other parent. Child support can be addressed in a separate child support case, or in a custody, divorce, or paternity case. Child support is usually paid monthly and can be taken out of your paycheck. For more information, visit the Child Support Help Topic.

Child Support Magistrate

A judicial officer who makes decisions in Expedited Process (or “Ex Pro”) child support cases. Child Support Magistrates hear testimony, accept exhibits, and issue orders in ex pro cases. Child Support Magistrate orders can only address child support-related issues. In a paternity case, a magistrate can also make orders on custody and parenting time based on the agreements of the parties involved.

Custody

There are two types of child custody under MN law. See the definitions for "legal custody" and "physical custody" below for more information about each.

Expedited Process (often called “Ex Pro”)

A special way of handling certain child support cases in MN. When a parent or child receives government benefits, or when one parent asks the county for help getting child support from the other parent, a paternity or child support case is handled through the family court’s “expedited process.” Ex Pro cases have different rules and timelines than other family court cases. The process allows for child support issues to be addressed more quickly. Usually county attorneys and child support workers are involved, and magistrates make decisions instead of judges or referees.

Genetic Testing

Testing that is generally done using a saliva sample from the parties to show the likelihood of a biological relationship between an alleged father and child. The court will often order genetic testing in a paternity case.

Legal Custody

The right to make decisions about a child’s religion, schooling, medical treatment, or where they live. A legal father can ask the court for custody rights. How to ask depends on whether the parties have been to court before, and what happened in those cases. For more information, visit the Custody and Parenting Time Help Topic.

Legal Parent

Someone who has legal rights and duties to provide and care for a child. Mothers are automatically established as legal parents. However, in situations where the parents are not married, fathers must either have paternity adjudicated by the court or voluntarily complete a Recognition of Parentage form to be considered a legal parent. When a child is born during a marriage, the husband is presumed to be the legal father.

Paternity Case

A family court case that can address the following issues: adjudication of legal father, child support, the child’s legal name, custody, and parenting time.

Physical Custody

The right to live with and provide day-to-day care for a child. A legal father can ask the court for custody rights. How to ask depends on whether the parties have been to court before, and what happened in those cases. For more information, visit the Custody and Parenting Time Help Topic.

Recognition of Parentage

An official state form that can be used to establish the legal relationship between a father and his child when the child’s parents are not married. If two parents sign a Recognition of Parentage, a paternity case is not required. Custody, parenting time, and child support can be addressed by opening a custody case.

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) form process or through a court order.  See “What is the Recognition of Parentage (ROP) form process?” or “What is the court order for paternity process?” FAQs below for more information.

What is the Recognition of Parentage (ROP) form process?

The ROP form is an official state form with a fairly easy and inexpensive process that can be used to establish the legal relationship between a father and a child when the father and mother are not married. You can download the Recognition of Parentage Form and Instructions on the MN Dept. of Human Services website. You can also get the form at your local County Child Support office. Hospitals often provide the ROP form to parents at the child's birth.

An unmarried mother and father can complete a ROP form stating that they are the biological parents by signing it in front of a notary and filing the form with the MN Dept. of Health. To learn more, see Minn. Stat. § 257.75.
 
NOTE: If a mother was married to a man who is not the biological father when a child is born, the ROP form alone is not enough to establish the biological father as the legal father. The mother's husband must also sign a separate form called the Spouse's Non-parentage Statement within one year after the child is born.

Properly completing the ROP process, including the Spouse's Non-parentage Statement when it is needed, establishes a legal relationship between the father and child.
 
Before signing a ROP form or a Spouse's Non-parentage Statement, you should understand what it means to be a legal father and what rights and duties you might receive or give up by signing the forms. Establishing paternity is important for purposes of inheritance, adoption, benefits, parenting time, financial support, health care, school issues, and other reasons. If you have any doubt about the identity of the biological father or have questions about whether to sign a ROP, talk to a lawyer before signing the form.

How can I get a copy of a Recognition of Parentage (ROP) that was filed?

You can use the Application for a Certified Copy of a Recognition of Parentage form on the MN Dept. of Health website.  You will need to fill out the form, sign it in front of a notary, and mail it to the MN Dept. of Health along with a fee to get a certified copy of a previously filed ROP. The address and fee are included in the form.

What if I signed a Recognition of Parentage (ROP) but believe I may not be the father?

If you have already signed a ROP form with the child's mother (usually at the hospital or at the Child Support Office), you and the mother have voluntarily and formally admitted that you are the biological father. If you now believe that you may not be the father, talk with a lawyer about your legal options. Undoing a completed ROP can be a complicated process. You should also talk with a lawyer if there is a court order stating that you are the legal father, but now you want genetic testing.
 
It is possible to revoke a completed ROP within 60 days after both parents sign the form. To revoke the ROP, the mother or father must sign a written revocation in front of a notary and file it with the Office of Vital Records. See Minn. Stat. § 257.75, subd. 2 and the MN Dept. of Health website for more information. The ROP can also be set aside by court order in limited circumstances. There are strict time limits to do this, so if you want to ask for a court order to revoke a ROP, get legal help right away.
 
The MN Judicial Branch does not publish forms to ask for a court order revoking a ROP. You can get forms to handle a paternity case from a lawyer or legal publisher, or you could check with your local court administrator to find out if they distribute forms at the courthouse. You could also visit your local law library. Again, you are strongly encouraged to get legal advice in this situation.

Does a Recognition of Parentage (ROP) form grant custody or parenting time rights to a father?

The ROP form does not give any custody or parenting time rights to the father. The mother still has sole custody under Minnesota law (see Minn. Stat. § 257.541). A parent or the county attorney must start a court action to request an order for custody, parenting time, or child support. Visit the Child Custody & Parenting Time or Child Support Help Topics for more information.

How can I get genetic testing?

If you want a genetic test to find out whether 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.

If the parties do not agree to do genetic testing voluntarily, see the “What is the process for getting a court order establishing paternity?” FAQ below for more information on court-ordered genetic testing.

What is the process for getting a court order establishing paternity?

To get a court order establishing paternity, a parent or the county attorney files papers to start a paternity case in the local District Court where the child or the other party lives. If either parent receives public assistance for the child, the county attorney will start the paternity case. The law allows for this so that the county can ask that the other parent be ordered to financially support his child.

In a paternity case, the court decides whether the alleged father is or is not the legal father.

The court may decide to order genetic testing on its own or at the request of a public agency to show whether an alleged father is actually the biological father of a child. The mother or alleged father may also ask the court to order genetic tests, but they must then file an affidavit (sworn statement) alleging or denying paternity and stating facts that show there is a reasonable possibility that there was or was not enough sexual contact between the alleged father and the child's mother to conceive a child. See Minn. Stat. § 257.62 subd.1. The County Child Support Offices can provide more information on genetic testing.

The court may also order payment of child support, decide who has custody of the child, and set a parenting time schedule, if asked by one of the parties.

CAUTION! If you are served with a Summons and Complaint for paternity, you need to respond with your own papers to protect your legal right to ask for genetic testing, deny or agree to paternity, and to say what you would like the judge to order regarding support and custody. The MN Judicial Branch does NOT publish forms and instructions to respond to a paternity Summons and Complaint. You should talk with a lawyer about your legal options and how to prepare the court papers to respond.

What is the 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 (MFAR) within 30 days after the child's birth.
 
MFAR is for fathers who:
 
  • Were not married to the mother of their presumed child when the child was born, and
  • Have not asked a court to name them as the child’s legal father, or
  • Have not signed a Recognition of Parentage form with the child’s mother, and
  • Want to know if their presumed child is in the adoption process.
 
The registry makes it possible for you to be notified if a Petition for Adoption of the child is ever filed in a MN court. You can find more information about the MFAR on the MN Dept of Health website.

When parents are not married and there has never been a court order, who has custody of the child?

Under MN law, a mother who was not married at the time of her child's birth has sole custody until a court issues a custody order. This is true even if the biological father's name appears on the child's birth certificate. Visit the Child Custody & Parenting Time Help Topic for more details on how to get a court order for custody.
 
MN law also presumes that a husband is the legal father of a child born to his wife during their marriage. If a woman has a child by someone other than her husband while she is still married, MN 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. See Minn Stat. § 257.55. The biological father has no legal rights or financial obligations to the child, unless he is established to be the legal father.

Do I need to ask for court-ordered custody or child support?

Some unmarried parents can cooperate in raising their child without court orders on custody, child support, and parenting time. However, parents may want to take legal action when problems arise such as:
 
  • Disputes over who may enroll the child in school and authorize medical treatment;
  • The parent with primary custody needs financial support;
  • A parent needs help getting parenting time with the child; or
  • A parent has serious concerns about the other parent's ability to safely care for the child.
Signing a Recognition of Parentage (ROP) form does not create any custody or parenting time rights or child support obligations. You need a court order to get custody, parenting time, or support. See the Child Custody & Parenting Time and Child Support Help Topics for more information.

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

If your child is the subject of a Juvenile Court case (for example, child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) or delinquency), it is possible that the Family Court may not be able to make a decision on custody or parenting time issues until the other case is resolved.

Do I need a lawyer?

You may represent yourself in a paternity case. However, we strongly encourage you to get legal advice from a lawyer, especially if the mother and alleged father do not agree on paternity, custody, or support. The County Attorney's Office may be able to help you establish paternity or set up child support.
FormsThe MN Judicial Branch does NOT publish paternity forms to use if there is not a signed Recognition of Parentage (ROP) form on file at the MN Dept. of Health. You may be able to get forms to start or respond to a paternity case from a lawyer or law library, or you could check with your local court administrator to find out if they have paternity forms at your county courthouse.

If paternity was established by you and the other parent signing a MN Recognition of Parentage (ROP) form AND it was filed with the MN Dept. of Health, you can ask for a court order for custody and parenting time using the Request to Establish Custody and Parenting Time Forms Packet. See the Child Custody & Parenting Time Help Topic for more information.
The following is a list of some of the laws and rules that relate to paternity in Minnesota. We encourage you to talk to a lawyer to get advice on how the laws and rules may affect your case. See Laws, Rules & Legal Research for more information.