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When a child is born, do mom and dad have equal rights?

You are likely familiar with the term “nuclear family.” It is the popular phrase used to describe a married dad and mom with 2.5 children living under the same roof. It is a nice, neat phrase. Most families today do not fit under this definition.

Today, children have a mom and dad that are married, two moms or two dads, one parent in the picture, stepparents and unmarried moms and dads, and the list goes on. The problem for many parents is that the law does not consider every family the same concerning custody and visitation rights.

In Minnesota, parents who have children outside of marriage do not have the same parental rights upon the birth of the child. Minnesota Statute § 257.541 defines the separate rights of unwed mothers and fathers.

First, we will address mom. Due to biology, it is easy to determine maternity. Upon the birth of her child, a biological mother has sole custody over her son or daughter. This right is exclusive until the court says otherwise.

Paternity, on the other hand, is not as easy to determine, which is why fathers must provide proof. Under the eyes of the law, a child born to an unwed mother does not have a legal father.

How does an unwed father obtain legal rights to his child? There are essentially two ways:

  1. Recognition of parentage: A mother and father can acknowledge paternity of a child. They must do this in writing and both parties must sign the document in front of a notary public. With this, the father has the right to seek custody and visitation.
  2. Court order: The second option is to establish paternity in court. There are many varied reasons why a parent(s) may choose this option.

While both options help legally determine who is the father of a child, the rights are not exactly the same. If you are an unwed father or mother, it is important to discuss your situation with an attorney.

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