Most people may be surprised to learn that a father has no legal rights to custody or parenting time with his child if he was not married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth. In Minnesota, if a child is born to an unwed mother, the mother is the sole legal and physical custodian of the child. A father has to bring a legal action to obtain rights to custody and parenting time, even in cases where paternity is uncontested.
At the hospital, many unwed fathers sign a Recognition of Parentage (ROP) form. The ROP is different than an application for a birth certificate. The form must be completed by both parties and signed in the presence of a notary public. Then the form is filed with the Minnesota Department of Health. The legal effect of the form is to provide the father with a paternity determination akin to that of a judgment or court order. If the ROP is on file with the state, the father may commence an action to determine legal custody, physical custody and parenting time with the minor child. If a ROP has not been signed and filed with the state, then the father must first bring a paternity action to declare the existence of a parent-child relationship before any rights of custody or parenting time can be determined.
If a father is named on the child’s birth certificate but a Recognition of Parentage has not been completed by the parties, the birth certificate provides the father with a presumption of paternity but is not legally conclusive.
This entry is part of a four part series on Family Law by Attorney Lori A. McLaughlin.