When a child is born to a woman who is not married, she automatically has sole child custody rights. This is true even in cases where a child’s father and mother are in a committed relationship, living together, the father’s name is on the child’s birth certificate and he plans to raise and emotionally and financially support the child.
What happens then if the couple splits when the child is one or two? If the father never took steps to legally establish paternity, he has no legal rights to the child and therefore cannot obtain child custody and visitation rights. Additionally, the child’s mother has no means of seeking or enforcing the payment of child support.
There are two ways to establish paternity in Minnesota; voluntarily y by signing and filing a Recognition of Parentage and through a Paternity Adjudication or court order. A ROP can be signed at any time and requires the signatures of both the biological mother and father.
In cases where paternity is disputed or in question, a paternity action can be initiated by a biological mother, a presumed father, the child or, in some cases, a grandparent. Genetic testing often aids in a quick determination regarding the paternity of a presumed father. In cases where the court makes a positive judgment with regard to paternity, the legal father may take action to gain child custody or visitation rights. He may also be ordered to start paying child support.
Every child and father has the right to build a relationship. However, unwed fathers who fail to establish paternity could be stripped of that right. Establishing paternity provides fathers the opportunity to obtain legal child custody and visitation rights and the opportunity to emotionally and financially support a son or daughter.
Source: Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, “RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF UNMARRIED PARENTS, 2014