Honesty, Integrity, Empathy

How is Paternity of a Child Established?

On Behalf of | Apr 21, 2023 | Family Law Topics, Firm News

A client recently asked me about my educational history. I responded that it was unusual—I majored in biology and then earned a graduate degree in botany. After all that, I took a bit of a left turn into law (some might say a hard left!). But I’ve actually found many similarities between the two fields over time. What is NOT completely similar is what each field defines as “paternity.”

In biology, “paternity” generally means male parentage” – i.e., what male contributed the genetic material that created the offspring (i.e., child) in question. Easy enough to figure that out: take a DNA test. These days, the testing involves a quick cheek swab of the father and child—no needles required. Read more on that below.

In law, however, “paternity” is the process of establishing who is the legal father of the child. This person may or may not be the biological father. For example, if a child is born during a mother’s marriage, then without more (and barring certain circumstances), Minnesota law says that husband is the legal father of the child.

But if it is revealed that a different man is the biological father (e.g., through a DNA test) and each father wishes to be the child’s legal father, then you have competing paternity presumptions. If the parties involved cannot arrive at an agreement as to who shall be the legal father and both fathers want that role, then a court needs to determine who shall be the legal father (i.e., adjudicate paternity).

In Minnesota, a court needs to consider various facts and circumstances when adjudicating paternity where there are competing paternity presumptions. There is not a hard and fast rule that would dictate which father “wins” and is adjudicated the child’s legal father. Here, the determination is NOT easy. The process can be complicated, and may require a trial.

How is paternity established when a child is born to unmarried parents? Paternity is usually settled at the child’s birth when the mother and father sign a Minnesota Recognition of Parentage form and file it in the state’s office of vital records. If one or both parents does not wish to do this, then either one may (but does not have to) initiate a paternity action. In the paternity action, the father can submit voluntarily to a DNA test and then submit the results to the court. If the father refuses, then the mother can have the court order father to submit to the test. The court will adjudicate paternity using the results of the DNA test.

Until paternity is adjudicated, like it or not, the biological mother of the child generally is deemed to have sole custody of the child under Minnesota law. While no one really wants to go to court, unmarried fathers have zero legal rights to a child without bringing a paternity case in court. Until then, a child only has one legal parent which is the mother and she has the sole authority to decide when and if the child sees their father.

Once paternity is established in the paternity action, then legal and physical custody may also be established along with a parenting time schedule. And, after the child has a legal father established, the child has the automatic right to be financially supported by the father. A child support order will be put into place by the court—that is, to the extent interested parties (usually the mother and/or any county providing public assistance) wish to pursue the matter.

A few final important points regarding DNA tests:

While DNA tests can easily be found at common retailers and pharmacies, parents should know that the results of these test will generally not be accepted by the court to establish paternity. Parents can certainly look to these readily available tests to satisfy their own curiosities. But the court generally needs the results of a DNA test performed by a lab with certain certifications and that follows specific protocols. The cost of DNA testing runs up to a few hundred dollars, with the cost generally being split by the parties. Under certain circumstances, the cost may be substantially reduced.

As this post reflects, paternity actions involve a number of issues and ought to be handled correctly and carefully. It is beneficial to have an experienced attorney represent you if you are involved in or wish to bring a paternity action. If you have questions about paternity or other family law issues, please contact Streit Law LLC today for a free consultation or to retain Angela. Please visit www.streitlaw.net or call 651-237-3815.

*In this article I have used gender binary terminology throughout. This mainly reflects what is used in Minnesota’s statutes and case law, historically. At Streit Law LLC, I enjoy serving a huge variety of families and individuals regardless of gender, sexuality, culture, religious affiliations, and the manner of family formation.