Under Minnestoa law, when parents are unmarried, the mother has full legal and physical custody rights to their child. A father must go to court to establish a legal right to his child.

This does not mean that a father cannot see his child or the parties cannot come to an agreement outside of court for parenting time. What it does mean, however, is that fathers have the responsibility of paying court costs to maintain their rights. Without a court order, a mother is able to discontinue parenting time and leave the father with no other recourse.

Establishing Custodial Rights

The process for establishing custodial rights is straightforward. If the parents signed documentation in the hospital, known as the “Recognition of Parentage” form (ROP), then the father can proceed directly with establishing custody. Initial paperwork must be filed, and a hearing is scheduled as soon as possible (but at least two weeks out). A judge will review the matter at the hearing and determine what steps are appropriate to determine custody and parenting time. Often, the judge will recommend a form of mediation or a Social Early Neutral Evaluation where the parties meet with a neutral third party and try to come to an agreement. Otherwise, a Guardian Ad Litem may be appointed to represent the child’s interests or a custody evaluation may be requested by the court. Custody evaluators observe both parents with the child, interview any individuals that the parents request, and make a recommendation to the court based on the evidence they gathered.

If, however, there was no ROP signed, then the father must first establish paternity. Paternity and custody may be established in the same action in court. Paternity may be established at any time before the child reaches the age of majority.

If you have any questions about establishing custody, or to discuss how establishing custody would affect your rights to your child, contact us to discuss your situation.