Written by: Ben Olson
Question: What rights do unmarried parents have in Minnesota?
Answer: The rights of unmarried mothers and fathers are different depending on the specific circumstances of each case. Read the discussion below to learn more.
Discussion: In Minnesota, unmarried mothers are automatically given sole legal and sole physical custody of their children. If no Court order or other agreement is in place, a parent with sole legal and sole physical custody has the right to make all decisions related to his or her child. That parent controls where the child lives, who the child spends time with, and the child’s day-to-day routine. That parent also makes all major medical, educational, and religious decisions for the child.
Unmarried fathers are treated differently. An unmarried father is not automatically given decision-making authority or the right to spend time with his child. Getting those rights is a two-step process. The first step is to establish a legal father-child relationship. The second step is to file documents with the Court requesting custody and parenting time.
Step 1: A legal father-child relationship is established by (1) signing and filing a valid Recognition of Parentage, or (2) filing a paternity action with the Court. A Recognition of Parentage is a free and simple document, often provided by hospital staff when a child is born. As long as the document is signed and filed correctly, it creates a legal father-child relationship. A Recognition of Parentage is most often used when both parents get along, and when the mother is certain about the identity of the biological father.
If unmarried parents choose not to sign a Recognition of Parentage, a legal father-child relationship can only be established by Court order. This process is started by filing a paternity action in District Court. Using the Courts to establish a father-child relationship can be expensive and stressful. But this process may be necessary if parents do not get along or if the identity of the biological father is in question.
Step Two: The second step to establishing an unmarried father’s custody and parenting time rights requires going to Court. When parents sign a Recognition of Parentage, this process is started by filing a Petition to Establish Custody and Parenting Time in District Court. If a Recognition of Parentage is not used, custody and parenting time will most likely be decided as part of the paternity action. In either case, the Court will issue an order describing the rights of both parents.
Summary: In Minnesota, unmarried mothers and fathers are treated differently. Unmarried mothers are automatically given sole decision-making authority and the right to spend time with their child. To obtain those same rights, an unmarried father must establish a legal parent-child relationship and request custody and parenting time from the Court.
Ben Olson is a family law attorney at Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O’Connell, PLLC. He focuses his practice on cases involving child support, child custody, parenting time, and orders for protection. Visit his bio here to learn more about Ben and his colleagues.
This article is meant to provide general information about Minnesota law. Do not rely on this information as a substitute for personal legal advice, which should be based on all relevant information relating to your individual circumstances. This information may not accurately describe the law in other states.