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When is a father not a father? In Minnesota, the answer is sometimes, "when he's not married to his child's mother." That is to say, even if a man is a biological father, if he's not married to his child's mother, he is not considered the legal father and has no rights regarding his child. When we speak of "establishing paternity," that's another way of describing the process of creating the relationship between an unmarried father and his child.
When a woman is married, her husband is presumed to be the legal father of her child—even if he is not, in fact, the biological father. In contrast, a man who is not married to his baby's mother has no legal relationship to the child unless someone takes steps to create one.
This can happen in multiple ways. One of the simplest is for both parents to sign a Minnesota VoluntaryRecognition of Parentage Form, and then submit it to the Office of Vital Statistics for filing. When a man signs a Recognition of Parentage of a child, he is legally the child's father. Custody and parenting can then be established through a court action. A Recognition of Parentage also allows either party to commence child support establishment proceedings.
If the parents disagree on the identity of the baby's father or refuse to sign a Recognition of Parentage, paternity must be established by filing a paternity action. Either the mother or the putative father may file a paternity case in the Minnesota county where the child lives. A paternity action may be commenced during a pregnancy, but proceedings are stayed until the child is born. Parties to a Minnesota paternity action have a right to a jury trial on the issue of paternity.
If either parent receives public assistance for the child, the County Attorney has the authority to file a paternity case in order to establish child support. In any paternity action, the court may order genetic testing on its own or at the request of one of the parties. Once paternity is established, the way is clear for a father to pursue custody and parenting time as a part of that action.
As noted above, without paternity having been established, a man has no legal rights to his child. The mother has sole custody and can even surrender the child for adoption without the man's knowledge or consent if she wishes.
In order to avoid this outcome, a man may register with the Minnesota Fathers' Adoption Registry. This may take place during the woman's pregnancy, and must take place no later than 30 days after the child's birth. The registry will notify him if anyone ever files a Petition for Adoption of the child in a Minnesota court, providing a measure of protection even if paternity has not yet been legally established.
The thirty day limit for registering is not flexible or theoretical; in 2002, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that a man who registered with the Adoption Registry on the 31st day following his child's birth had no right to stop an adoption, even though he had not known earlier that his pregnant ex-girlfriend was living in Minnesota.
If a woman has recently given birth to your child, or is going to do so soon, it's important to understand and protect your rights before it's too late. Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have about establishing paternity or custody the Minnesota Fathers' Adoption Registry. We look forward to working with you.