In Minnesota, an unmarried father has no parental rights unless these have been established by a court order.  The mother of the child has the common law right to physical and legal custody because she gave birth to her child.  When the mother is married to the father, then the father has common law physical and legal custody rights, too.  But, when the mother is not married to the father, the father has no legal rights to his child.  None.

This is true even when the father signs a Recognition of Parentage at the hospital and is named as the “father” on the child’s birth certificate.  It is also true even when the child has the father’s last name. 

The mother can go to court and get an order requiring the father to pay child support.  Even then, the father has no parental rights.   No court order, no parental rights for Dad.

In relationships where the mother and father get along, the fact that the father has no legal rights might not be a problem.  But, in a relationship where the mother and father do not get along, this can be a problem.  The father is not legally entitled to share in any kind of custody, and he is not legally entitled to parenting time. 

The only option for the father is to start a legal action to establish paternity and parental rights in court.  In Minnesota this is called a paternity suit.  The specifics of how to do this are going to depend on whether the father signed a Recognition of Parentage.  If he did, the case is pleaded one way.  If he did not, the case is pleaded another way.  The mother can also start a paternity suit.  This may be necessary if the mother wants child support and the father did not sign a Recognition of Parentage at the hospital.

I believe that it is important for both unmarried fathers and unmarried mothers to establish parental rights.  This is important, even when the mother and father get along.  In fact, it is much easier to do when the mother and father get along because a stipulation can be drafted and submitted to and approved by the court, with very minimal court inovlvement.

If there is a question about whether a particular unmarried man is the father of a child, then either the mother or father can request genetic DNA testing.  Generally, genetic DNA testing costs about $500 or so.  If the alleged father is not the real father, genetic DNA testing will prove this conclusively.  If the alleged father is the father, genetic DNA testing will indicate this, with a calculation showing that the odds of anyone else being the father are extraordinarily low (maybe 1 in 4 billion or so).

The law relating to unmarried parents is complex.  If you have questions about paternity in Minnesota, feel free to call Fiskum Law at (952) 270-7700.