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How child custody works for unmarried couples in Minnesota

If you asked someone 30 years ago what they considered to be a traditional family, you might expect to hear something along the lines of a married couple with children. But evolving social norms and changing laws has given way to a completely new definition of what a traditional family may look like. If you asked someone nowadays, the word marriage may not even come up in the definition.

That's how it is for a lot of unmarried families here in Minnesota. But while there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle, it can create some legal issues that our Anoka readers should be aware of. In this week's blog post, we want to specifically address how child custody works for unmarried parents in our state.

For starters, did you know that the law presumes that if a child is born to a married couple, the husband is legally the father until a paternity test says otherwise? Although this may be true for married couples, the same is not true for unmarried fathers who do not have any rights to the child, even if their name appears on the birth certificate.

This means that if an unmarried father wants to exercise his right to custody and visitation, he needs to establish paternity. This can be done through the Recognition of Parentage process or by a court order. Once paternity has been established, the unmarried father becomes the child's legal parent, which not only establishes a financial obligation to the child but gives him the right to fight for custody and visitation as well.

Something else that may catch unmarried fathers off guard is the fact that Minnesota law automatically awards an unmarried mother sole custody of the child until the court issues a child custody order. This means that an unmarried father could be denied the right to see the child before such a time.

Because of how differently the law works for married couples versus unmarried couples, situations such as this may require the help of a knowledgeable attorney. With their help, unmarried fathers can better understand their rights and how they work in child custody cases.

Source: The Minnesota Judicial Branch, "Basics on Paternity - Being a 'Legal' Father," Accessed Dec. 12, 2014

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