How do unmarried dads get legal rights to their children?

When a child is born outside of wedlock, the child’s father does not have any legal rights to that child.  This is a shocking thought, but it is true.  The moment a child is born outside of marriage the mother has 100% of the legal rights to the child.  The mother does not have to let the father know when the baby has been born or if the baby is sick.  Plus, the mother holds all the cards to when, where, how – and if – the father sees the child.

Some of these dads I speak with quickly tell me they have legal rights to the child because he signed a Minnesota Recognition of Parentage (“ROP”) form at the hospital when the baby was born.  All the ROP does is create a legal presumption that the man may be the child’s father.  The presumed dad who signed the ROP just gave the state and county his name, address and Social Security Number so they know how to find the dad should there be a child support case.

What does an unmarried father do?  Unmarried dads need to be legally recognized as the father of the child and establish legal rights.  This is done by:

1.         Talking with a skilled family law attorney.  This is very, very important because there are so many things a dad needs to consider and know to get on the same legal footing as the biological mother.

2.         Registering with the Minnesota Fathers’ Adoption Registry.  If the mother wants to put the baby up for adoption, registering with Registry within 30 days of the child’s birth allows a biological father to get notice of the adoption.  To obtain the form or for more information about the registration process, visit

3.         Going to court.  In order for the biological father to be named the legal father, he must bring a court case:

(A) To be adjudicated, or legally found to be, the biological father and,

(B) To address legal custody, physical custody and parenting time.

One of the worst things an unmarried dad can do is to wait for the relationship with the child’s mom to fall apart and then consult with an attorney.  By that time child is in preschool and the dad has not been a major part of that child’s life.  That creates some real legal complications that are more difficult to address because so much time has passed.  Talking with an experienced family law attorney is key.


Jessica Sterle