There are many misconceptions about paternity law. Mothers may be asking themselves about their rights or the responsibilities of their child’s biological father. Fathers may be asking what obligations they may have.
Let’s Explore Paternity
Contrary to popular belief, paternity does not refer to a child’s biological father. Paternity refers to the child’s legal father. What’s the difference? Well, if a child’s parents are not married at the time of the child’s birth, the biological father of the child is not actually considered the “legal father” until steps are taken to establish his paternity.
Every child has a biological father, but not necessarily a legal father. If the biological father and mother are not married at the time of birth, the mother has sole custody and the responsibility of the child. Thus, paternity becomes an important step for unwed parents, especially if child support or custody issues need to be dealt with in the future.
Note: A birth certificate alone does not establish paternity. Even if the father’s name is on the birth certificate, there are no obligations, responsibilities, or rights given to him unless further steps are taken to establish paternity.
How To Establish Paternity
When a child is born, if the biological father is not married to the mother, he will need to establish paternity in order to become the legal father. There are a couple of ways to establish paternity in Minnesota. One way to establish paternity is a form called “Recognition of Parentage” (ROP). If both biological parents agree on who the biological father is, they will sign a ROP. This essentially states that they are the biological parents. This form is then filed with the Minnesota Department of Health. Typically, parties will sign a ROP at the hospital after the birth of the child.
The other way to establish paternity is to file a paternity action in district court. A judge in district court may order genetic testing of the child and the potential biological father. If genetic testing proves that the alleged biological father is in fact the biological father, a judge will enter an order establishing paternity. Parties may also agree in open court that the alleged biological father is the child’s biological father. In this instance, a judge will issue an order establishing paternity without genetic testing.
While signing a ROP can help establish paternity, it does not invoke any sort of obligation to child support or create custody. If the unmarried legal father does not actively seek custody during the paternity process, he will not automatically be granted custody rights to the child upon receipt of a paternity order. This is another situation where a court order is necessary and you should speak with a lawyer.
Overall, if there are disputes on who the biological father is, or perhaps one of the unmarried parents wants to file for custody, child support, or parenting time – legal counsel will be necessary to help with the court order process.
What If We’re Already Married?
If a couple is already married when a child is born, the husband is automatically considered the legal father. This is important to understand because even if the husband is not the biological father, he is still considered the legal father. If custody, child support, or parenting time is being sought by the biological father or mother, paternity needs to be established with the biological father. The biological father has no rights or responsibilities to the child unless paternity is established with him.
So, What About Genetic Testing?
There are a few ways to go about a genetic test to determine the biological father of the child. If both parties agree to genetic testing, there’s no need for any court intervention and the parties can order testing on their own. If the parties do not agree to genetic testing, they will need court intervention. This is a fairly complex process that should involve consulting a lawyer to determine procedural steps and filings. Ultimately, a judge can order genetic testing either on its own or at the request of a public agency or a party.
You Don’t Have To Do It Alone
Paternity is a complicated process. We understand that. It can be rough at times and it’s helpful to have someone at your side that understands the complexities involved. Not only do we have decades of experience, but we’re also in the business of people. Our impassioned team will work with you and your case.
Contact us today if you have any questions about our firm or about your case. We would love to help.