Does an unmarried mother have sole legal rights to a child in Minnesota, as a social media post claims? Yes, that's true: Like unmarried fathers in other U.S. states, the unmarried father of a child in Minnesota does not automatically receive the same legal rights as the child's unmarried mother. However, the unmarried father can take legal steps to get those rights.
The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) published on December 23, 2019. The post featured a screenshot of a Google search results page for a question related to parenthood and a birth certificate. The first result on the page displayed information from a webpage called LawHelpMN.org that read (boldface by LawHelpMN.org):
If the parents were never married, the mother has sole legal and physical custody until a court order says differently. An unmarried father has no legal rights to custody or visitation of the child. Only a legal parent can ask the court for custody or visitation.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Thu Jan 6 21:53 2022 UTC)
The link associated with the LawHelpMN.org result screenshotted in the post is here (archived here). The information appeared in a section of the page explaining the legal definition of "paternity" in Minnesota, which means "who is legally the father of the child." The section goes on:
If the parents are not married when the child is born, there is no legal father until paternity is established. The parents may agree that a man is the biological father and sign a form called a Recognition of Parentage (ROP) or a court action may be started to name the father (adjudicate paternity). A birth certificate does not establish paternity.
An unmarried father does not have a right to custody or parenting time until paternity is established.
During a phone call with Lead Stories on January 6, 2022, a Minnesota legal expert who specializes in family law but who asked not to be named for personal reasons, confirmed that an unmarried father can establish paternity by signing a Recognition of Parentage with the mother -- which, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, would get the father's name on the birth certificate but would not entitle the father to custody or visitation time by itself -- or by requesting a court order, which could also determine custody and visitation time. The expert also clarified that while an unmarried father may not automatically have the same legal rights as an unmarried mother, it is legal for the father and mother to co-parent the child without court involvement.
In an email to Lead Stories on January 6, 2022, Betty Dilks, assistant revisor at the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, which provides drafting services for the Minnesota Legislature's draft laws and documents, pointed to an additional resource from LawHelpMN.org and provided another perspective on the "legal parent" aspect of the claim:
I think saying 'legal father' is a little misleading (even if it may be accurate). Who can sue for a paternity action versus bringing a motion for custody and visitation differs based on whether or not the father signed the birth certificate (recognition of parentage) and other factors under the presumption of paternity statute.
According to a resource published in 2018 from the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, other states also generally require that if an unmarried father wants legal rights regarding a child, he must establish paternity of that child pursuant to the law in his location. Some other states also require an unmarried father's name to be on a birth certificate to legally be considered a "father" -- such state requirements can be found starting here.