How do the courts decide who is a child's legal father?

If a mother isn't sure who's the biological father of her child -- or if the alleged father doesn't agree -- biological paternity can be determined relatively easily via DNA test. When done correctly, these tests are so accurate that they are accepted as proof of paternity in court.

Establishing legal paternity isn't just a matter of fatherly pride; it's the basis for a dad's parental rights. That means a DNA test isn't quite enough -- a court's determination of legal paternity may be needed for dads to have the right to make decisions regarding their kids and to be given parenting rights.

A DNA test may determine who's a father, but DNA isn't what makes a dad. In some cases, the courts don't need evidence of a biological relationship at all. In fact, most fathers are never required to undergo a DNA test in order to establish their parental rights. After all, paternity had to be determined long before anyone even knew what DNA was.

So, how do family courts determine legal paternity, if not through DNA?

Presumed Fathers

Family courts have traditionally made the legal assumption that when a married woman gets pregnant, her husband is the father. In other words, as long as no one challenges the husband's paternity, he doesn't need to do anything to prove he fathered his children. This is only one example of someone being a presumed father.

Acknowledged Fathers

Just because a couple isn't married doesn't mean they don't know who fathered a child, of course. In many cases, unmarried couples are in committed relationships when the child is conceived or born, and dad agrees to list his name as the father on the child's birth certificate.

Equitable Fathers

In relatively limited circumstances, the courts may legally determine a man is a child's father even though he isn't the biological father and hasn't adopted the child. Often enough, the daily love and support of a step-dad or male friend is truly important to the child's well-being. Recognizing that, some courts will grant visitation or custody rights to the equitable father upon a showing that doing so is in the child's best interest.

If you have questions about the process in Minnesota, you can learn more by visiting the paternity page of our website.

Source: FindLaw, "Paternity Suit FAQs," accessed Nov. 14, 2014

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