What to Do When You Find Out Your Girlfriend's Pregnant

Can a man make a woman a mother without her making him a father? Yes, and this isn't a trick question. In Minnesota, an unmarried man who gets his girlfriend pregnant unquestionably makes her a mother. However, legally speaking, he is not a father unless certain steps are taken. A child born to an unmarried mother has no legal father until paternity is established. This means more than taking a DNA test; establishing paternity is a legal process.

Establishing Paternity in Minnesota

There are two ways to establish paternity. The first is for you and your girlfriend to sign a Recognition of Parentage (ROP) which must then be filed with and accepted by the Minnesota Department of Health. This form must be signed by both of you, but either of you can cancel it within 60 days of signing it. You don't need to have a genetic test before signing an ROP, but you might want to get one if you're not absolutely sure you're the father; once you sign the ROP the court will not order a genetic test.

Advantages of signing an ROP are that it is quicker than other means of establishing paternity, being almost immediate, and so long as it is not cancelled, you will be notified if your girlfriend attempts to surrender the baby for adoption. Disadvantages are that the baby's mother can cancel the ROP without your knowledge or consent, and it doesn't give you any custody or parenting time rights. It does establish you as the father so that the mother or the County can pursue child support against you.

The second way to establish paternity in Minnesota is by court order. You can file a lawsuit asking to be granted paternity in a paternity order. The advantages of this are that the baby's mother cannot cancel a paternity order, and the paternity order may also grant you custody and parenting time rights without the need for a separate lawsuit. The disadvantages are that it often takes months, much longer than signing and filing an ROP, and that while waiting for a paternity order, the baby's mother could surrender the baby for adoption.

Having your name on the baby's birth certificate does not, by itself, establish paternity! A father's name is placed on the birth certificate when paternity has been established, but it sometimes is included when it shouldn't be, such as when an unmarried couple tells hospital staff they're married. (Husbands' names are listed on birth certificates because Minnesota law presumes that the husband is the father of the wife's baby.) The only true proof of paternity for unmarried dads is a paternity order or an ROP.

Preventing Your Child's Adoption

As noted above, both ROPs and paternity actions may temporarily expose a biological father who is not married to his baby's mother to the risk that the mother will surrender the child for adoption. Fortunately, there is a simple way to close this window of risk, IF you act in a timely manner. At any time during the pregnancy, or within 30 days after the birth of your child, you can register with the Minnesota Fathers' Adoption Registry. Registration is free and simple, requiring you only to fill out, sign, and mail a brief form.

Registering gives you the right to get notice of any proposed adoption and to contest it if you wish. Even if you don't want to contest the adoption, registering still allows you to be a part of the adoption process, including providing your child with information he or she may someday want about your medical history. You can also be part of the decision-making process around the adoption.

No matter the current state of your relationship with your baby's mother, consider talking to an experienced Minnesota paternity lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney will help you make sense of your rights and responsibilities and help you protect yourself and give your child the best future possible.

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