Establishing Legal Parenthood in Minnesota

While many adults can care for a child, in Minnesota a child can have only two legal parents.

A legal parent has certain rights and responsibilities. One is the right to seek custody of their child.

Generally, to seek custody in Minnesota, you must be legally recognized as one of the child's parents. (Sometimes other family members file for custody when the parents have abandoned or cannot care for the child.)

Here's how to establish legal parenthood. Remember that it's always wise to consult a lawyer.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Make My Minnesota Plan Now

Becoming a legal parent automatically

Upon a child's birth, the birth mother is legally recognized.

If she is married, or if she was divorced less than 280 days before the birth, her spouse (or ex-spouse) is assumed to be the other parent.

Officially, the gender of her spouse does not make a difference. Since 2013, all Minnesota family laws originally written with gendered terms for spouses or parents are understood as gender-neutral.

However, some advocacy groups recommend that a birth mother's wife seek a stepparent adoption so there is no question about her legal rights.

When the biological father needs deliberate recognition

When the biological father is not married to the mother, he needs to take steps to establish his legal parenthood.

If parents agree on the father, and the mother is unmarried

In this case, the mother and father can fill out a Voluntary Recognition of Parentage (ROP).

By signing it in front of a notary, a woman and a man swear they are the child's biological parents. This gives the father the right to seek custody or parenting time from a court, and it also allows a court to order him to pay child support.

Same-sex couples cannot use this form. Same-sex couples may instead become legal parents by marriage before the child's birth or by adoption.

If parents agree on the father, and the mother is married to someone else

If the mother is married to someone other than the biological father at the time of the conception or birth, two documents are needed. The first is the ROP. The second is a Spouse's Non-Parentage Statement, by which the spouse renounces their presumed parenthood.

If there's disagreement about who the father is

Minnesota does not provide standard court forms to establish paternity when it's contested, but your county may. One person involved will need to open a paternity case. The court may then order a DNA test.

If a person is served with a petition to determine whether they are a parent, they have 20 days to respond. If the deadline expires without a response, the judge decides how to proceed.

Becoming a legal parent through adoption

A person who isn't a biological parent — and who isn't married to the mother at the time of the conception or birth — can still become a legal parent through adoption.

They can do this via standard adoption, stepparent adoption (if they marry the child's legal parent) or second parent adoption (if they're in a relationship with, but not married to, the legal parent). Adoptive parents are legally recognized when the court finalizes the adoption.

Special circumstances

Artificial insemination and surrogacy

When a physician provides donor sperm to a married woman, Minnesota legally treats the woman's husband as the child's biological father once the husband signs his consent. The sperm donor has no parental rights.

The artificial insemination law uses gendered language, recognizing only a mother's husband as a legal parent. Again, though all such laws are supposed to be treated as gender-neutral, some advocates recommend that a mother's wife go through the adoption process to avoid challenges to her parental rights.

Surrogate births are handled differently. Surrogacy is not addressed in Minnesota law, so intended parents should work with a lawyer before the pregnancy. Often, an intended parent seeks a parentage order (if they are genetically related to the child) or an adoption (if they are not related).

Sexual assault

When a man has sexually assaulted the mother of his child, Minnesota does not automatically deny him legal parenthood. However, a judge may decide to terminate his parental rights, especially if he is convicted of the assault. If his parental rights are terminated, after four years he can appeal to restore them (as long as the child hasn't been adopted), but Minnesota rarely grants these requests.

Even if he remains a legal parent, the judge can consider the sexual assault a type of abuse when they decide custody. Abuse is one of the criteria Minnesota judges use in custody cases, and it is taken seriously.

Your rights as a legal parent

A legal parent of a minor child has the right to:

  • Access school, medical, insurance and other important records
  • Know the name and address of their child's school
  • Receive school notifications about their child's well-being and progress
  • Attend school and parent-teacher conferences
  • Receive notification of any serious accident or illness, as well as who's treating their child and where
  • Receive notification if their child is the victim of a crime and know who's investigating
  • Contact their child by phone and email

The court would take away these rights only if it found that the parent's involvement could put someone in danger.

Getting custody after you establish legal parenthood

Not all legal parents have custody of their child. Legal custody gives a parent the right to make major decisions about their child. Physical custody determines where the child lives and who cares for them day to day.

When an unmarried mother gives birth, she has sole legal and sole physical custody until a judge says otherwise. This is true even if the parents have signed an ROP.

When married parents have a baby, they automatically share joint legal and joint physical custody.

To change custody — which is common when the parents were never married or are divorcing — parents must turn to a court. They can either submit an agreement for approval or ask a judge to decide.

Either way, when you open a custody case, you should submit a parenting plan to explain how you want to raise your child.

Custody X Change helps you create a thorough parenting plan quickly. It lets you choose from popular child-rearing provisions and add your own provisions. It also guides you through making a custody schedule.

Once you're a legal parent, turn to Custody X Change to simplify the custody process.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Make My Minnesota Plan Now

Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

Make My Plan

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Minnesota Plan Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan