When a child is born in Minnesota to an unmarried mother, the mother automatically has sole legal and sole physical custody of that child under Minn. Stat. § 257.541.  When this happens, many parents sign a Recognition of Parentage, or ROP, form so that the baby’s birth certificate will have both parents listed. This is a form that is frequently signed at the hospital and is then submitted to the Minnesota Office of Vital Statistics. The ROP can be signed at any time, however, no matter how old the child is. Signing the ROP is easy to do, but doing so can cause significant responsibilities to arise and should be carefully considered.

Most importantly, signing the ROP only establishes paternity. It is a form that simply states who the child’s father and mother are. The ROP does not give the father any sort of right to custody or parenting time with the child. In order to have custody and parenting time, one of the parents (or both, together) must petition the court for an order establishing custody and parenting time. Until that petition is brought in court, the mother has complete control of the child. She does not have to allow the father to spend time with his child, and the mother can move and make major life decisions regarding the child without any input by the father, including moving out of the state. There is one important exception to this rule: if a father has signed a ROP and is on the child’s birth certificate, the mother must get the father’s signature to obtain a US passport for the child (see our post: Obtaining a Passport for a Minor Child).  It is imperative that unmarried fathers go through the proper channels to establish their custody and parenting time rights because until there is a court order, the father has no legal right to see or parent his own child.

Despite not establishing a right to custody or parenting time, signing a ROP means that parents accept responsibility to financially support their children. The court can use a signed ROP to order a parent to pay child support, medical support, and child care support. The court can also order a parent to pay retroactive support going back to the date of the child’s birth, or two years from the start of a legal action, whichever is earlier. Financial support can also include reimbursing the county for any public assistance provided for the benefit of the child, including pregnancy and birthing expenses.

What should you do if you have signed a ROP for your child but have not established custody or child support? First, if you are the father, you should go to court to establish your custody and parenting time rights with your child, even if you and the mother are currently on good terms. Starting the case now will ensure that you will continue to be able to see and parent your child, even if your relationship with the mother deteriorates.  Second, if you are paying voluntary child support to the child’s mother, you should make sure to document these payments and maintain records. This may help you fight a future request for past child support. Consider paying the support with checks or direct deposit into her bank account. Make sure to keep the records. You may also want to consider establishing a child support court order so that there is no doubt about your obligation.

What do you do if you find out you’ve signed a ROP for a child who is not actually your own? If you’ve discovered this no more than 60 days after signing, you can revoke the ROP by filing a ROP Revocation Form with the Minnesota Office of Vital Records. If more than 60 days have passed you can vacate the ROP under Minn. Stat. § 257.75 by petitioning the court. The petition to vacate must be brought no later than one year after signing the ROP, or no later than six months after receiving the results of a blood or genetic test that show you are not the parent of the child. If the ROP is vacated your child support obligation will be stopped going forward, but you are not entitled to reimbursement for any past support you have paid, except back to the date you filed the motion in the Court to vacate the ROP.

If you have any questions about signing a Recognition of Parentage form, or what the next steps are, please contact Wilson Law Group at 612-436-7100 for a consultation with one of our family law attorneys.