When a child is born, there is no legal question who the mother is: the mother is the person out of whose body the baby comes. The identity of the father can be a matter of some dispute. So, Minnesota automatically recognizes the woman who gives birth as the child’s parent. The father is not automatically afforded that presumption. If the mother and father are married, the father is presumed to be the father. If they are not married, the father has to do more than be named on the birth certificate.
A father who intends to be present in his child’s life, to tuck the child into bed, to help with homework, to teach the child to ride a bike, needs to be adjudicated the child’s parent. Otherwise, he risks losing his fundamental rights to parent his child. Without signed Recognition of Parentage (ROP) (which requires both parents to agree to sign) or a court order (which doesn’t), the mother can exercise her presumptive legal rights and deny the father the ability to live with or even see his child.
The mother could move the child out of state. She could enroll the child in her choice of school or promote her choice of religious upbringing or initiate medical treatment without getting the father’s permission or even discussing these things with him.
A court can adjudicate (order) any combination of parental rights based on the child’s best interests. The court can order that the child live primarily with the mother . . . or the father. That parent has primary “physical custody.” The decision-maker has “legal custody” of the child, and the court can order that either parent has that right or that they share the decision making equally.
Unmarried fathers should take reasonable steps to embrace their rights and obligations as a father. Get a ROP signed and filed so you are legally the child’s father. The court may order either parent pay child support to the other (depending on the parents’ means and their financial obligations). Calculate who owes whom how much child support here.
None of these rights are automatic, and what rights and obligations each parent has can be shaped by the parents and the courts. Consult the Barry S. Edwards Law Office to find out what you ought to do if you are an unmarried father. I have won fathers their rights several times. Check out the the stories of Charles and Ryan in the Barry S. Edwards Law Office Family Law Success Stories.