You may wonder what happens if you are an unwed father to a newborn. Being a father means, naturally, taking on responsibility for your child, and making sure that you do what’s best for him or her. But what rights do you have as a father if you are not married to the mother of the child?

PATERNITY

The term “paternity” refers to the “legal” father of a child under Minnesota law. Once paternity is established, a father has the responsibility to support their child financially. He may also seek a court order concerning parenting time and custody.

Of course, every child will have a biological mother and biological father. But, a child may not have a “legal” father. Under Minnesota law, if a newborn’s mother and father are not married to each other when the child is born, the father will not be considered the “legal” father until the necessary steps are taken.

An unwed father will have no legal rights to the child until he becomes the “legal” father. Even if the father’s name is on the newborn’s birth certificate, that is insufficient to declare him as the “legal” father.

HOW DOES AN UNWED FATHER BECOME THE “LEGAL” FATHER OF THE CHILD?

A man (not married to the child’s mother) can become the “legal” father a child either through a signed “Recognition of Parentage” (ROP), or by court order.

Establishing paternity is the first step to gaining rights to access and decide issues surrounding health care, school issues, adoption, benefits, parenting time, financial support, and many other needs and issues surrounding a child.

HUSBAND’S NON-PATERNITY STATEMENT

In a case where the mother is married to a man who is not the biological father, a ROP form will not be enough to establish the biological father as the “legal” father. The husband of the mother must also sign a form known as the “Husband’s Non-Paternity Statement” within one year of the birth of the child.

Once these two forms are completed, it will finally establish a “legal” relationship between the biological father and child.

ROP DOES NOT GRANT CUSTODY OR PARENTING TIME

Once a ROP is signed, a father becomes responsible to support the child. However, under Minnesota law the mother of the child will have sole physical and legal custody. The ROP does not give any custody or parenting time to the father. In order to gain custody or parenting time, an action must be filed in family court.

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Photo of Cynthia Brown Cynthia Brown

Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.