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If you're having a baby, but you're not married to the baby's father, you may have a lot of questions about your rights, the father's rights, and some of the resources available to you. Being unmarried and pregnant presents some challenges, but understanding your options can make this exciting time less stressful.
Here are five things you should know if you're unmarried and pregnant in Minnesota:
Until paternity is established by affidavit or adjudication, your child's father is not legally their father. By the same token, under Minnesota law, you have sole custody of your child until paternity is established, and your child's father has no legal right to parenting time. The statute is Mn. Stat. 257.541. Please remember this statute if you have to deal with the police on a domestic with the child's father. Sometimes they wrongly tell you that you have to go to court to establish custody. (This is an important tip.)
Depending on the nature of your relationship with your child's father, you will want to help them have a relationship that's appropriate based on the child's needs and age (for instance, a newborn who's breastfeeding exclusively can't spend a weekend away from his or her mother). It's important for a child to have a strong relationship with both parents, and of course, you want to cultivate a good co-parenting relationship with your child's father, especially if you are not still a couple. That said, you will want to proceed carefully when it comes to parenting time, for reasons noted below. Don't be bullied into giving up time with your child. If your relationship is rocky then do consult an attorney about the best way to establish a good parenting schedule (usually through some form of mediation) with the child's father.
The good news is your child has a right to support, inheritance, and other benefits from his or her father. The bad news is that identifying the father on the birth certificate isn't enough to establish that legal relationship.
This is surprising to a lot of people. After all, a birth certificate is a legal document. But it does not establish paternity. There are two ways to do that if parents are unmarried (when a woman is married, her husband is presumed to be the father of her child). The first is for the parents to sign a Recognition of Parentage, stating under oath that they are the parents of the child in question. If both you and the child's father are together in the hospital, they will give you the forms to fill out. Be sure to read the forms and make sure you understand what you are signing.
If you have any doubts as to who the father is then do not sign the Recognition of Parentage. Instead plan to proceed with the second way, have paternity tests taken, and file an action with the court to have the father adjudicated. Adjudication is necessary if paternity is disputed.
There are forms available to have paternity established through your county of residence for a very low cost. But if the county brings the action then they do not represent your interests. They say they only represent the interests of the public authority in establishing parentage and child support. Paternity actions do need to address custody and parenting time for the father so be prepared to seek legal counsel before entering into agreement in court.
In Minnesota, all children have the right to support from both parents, even if the parents are unmarried. An unmarried father is legally obligated to provide for his child's needs, including medical needs. Children of unmarried parents have the legal right to inherit from their father as well as their mother, and may have the right to receive government benefits and other benefits through their father. These benefits can include Social Security, disability, veterans' benefits, and life insurance. Don't be too proud to accept this help! Your child is entitled to it and deserves it.
One benefit of adjudication is that it can establish child support orders at the same time as it adjudicates paternity. However, even if there is a signed Recognition of Parentage you can still get forms with the local child support office and have them pursue the father for child support. It is called a IV-D action and is very inexpensive to get assistance in establishing such support.
We're not talking about first names here, although you'll want to choose wisely on that score as well. You have a decision to make about what last name to put on your child's birth certificate, and you will want to consider that choice carefully. We are currently working with a number of clients who chose to give their child the last name of the child's father.
It is an understandable impulse. You may hope that giving your child the same last name as his or her father will help the father feel close to the child, which is admirable. However, in our experience, many young mothers come to regret this decision. Certainly, do not agree to do it if the father refuses to sign a Recognition of Parentage. You will likely come to regret your choice, and it is a difficult and expensive one to change.
Having and caring for a baby is an expensive proposition, and we understand that you may hesitate to add a lawyer's fee to your existing expenses. However, spending a little money on a lawyer now can save you from having to spend a lot of money on one later. For instance, a lawyer will be able to advise you how to protect your custody and parenting time rights. Allowing the child's father unlimited parenting time before a custody order has been established can set a dangerous precedent that could limit your time with your child for years to come. An ethical, experienced Minnesota family law attorney will help you to build strong family relationships for your child without jeopardizing your own rights.
Also, if you decide you want to surrender your child for adoption, a lawyer can help you make sure that you comply with all legal requirements so that the process goes as smoothly as possible for you, your child, and the adoptive parents.
The decisions you make in the days just before and after your child's birth will have long-lasting ramifications for both of you. Get the advice you need to protect your child and yourself.
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