Teenage pregnancy and parenting present unique issues in Minnesota Family Law. Circumstances common in teenage pregnancy and parenting cases such as the parents status as minors, one or both parents not having graduated from primary school, lack of income, and not being married, effect each parents rights with regard to custody and child support.
Custody Rights of Teenage Mothers and Fathers
In any child custody matter the issue of paternity is the first to be addressed. Paternity defines the legal relationship between a parent and child. In Minnesota the biological mother of a child is presumed to be the mother simply by virtue of having given birth to the child. Where the biological mother is not married to the father when the child was conceived, the mother automatically has sole physical custody of the child until paternity is established.
Establishing paternity for a father can be established in a number of ways and will depend on the circumstances of the parents. Where the biological mother is married at the time the child is conceived, her husband is presumed under Minnesota law to be the father of the child. This is rarely the case for teenage parents. More commonly the teenage parents are not married. Where the parents are not married, a father may create a presumption of paternity by signing a document called a Recognition of Parentage (ROP). This document is typically provided to the father at the hospital following the birth of the child but can be obtained and signed later. The presumption of paternity created by the ROP does not give a father any automatic custody rights to the child. Rather it functions to create a basis for bringing a court action to award custody or parenting time, and for bringing an action to establish child support. Until a court order is entered granting custody to another, the mother remains the sole custodian.
Regardless of whether a teenage father exercises his right to bring an action to establish custody and parenting time, the ROP will still act to allow an action for child support to be brought either by the mother or a state or county agency on the mother’s behalf. If a teenage mother is on public assistance, which is often the case, the county which provides the public assistance has the option to bring an action on behalf of the mother against the father to establish child support. The purpose of child support is to help provide for the basic needs of the child, including healthcare and childcare.
Minnesota implements a shared income model whereby the combined gross incomes of the parties, the percentage of time each party has with the child, and any contributions to healthcare premiums and child care costs are all factored into a calculator to come up with each parents’ child support obligation. However, the calculation isn’t necessarily so simple. Factors and arguments regarding unemployment, imputation of income, or inability to pay can and often do come into play. As a result, depending on their circumstances this shared income model may not be appropriate for teenage parents.
Teenage parents facing issues of child custody, parenting time and child support should consult with a Minnesota licensed attorney to understand their rights and ensure those rights are properly protected.
TIPS FOR GRANDPARENS:
For parents of a new or expectant teen parent who wish to assist their child address their custody or child support issue, there are several things you can do and should be aware of:
- In bringing an action or responding to an action to establish custody and parenting time, or child support, your child (the teenage parent) will have to sign various documents before a notary public. This will require a valid picture identification card. This can be a driver’s license, passport or other valid state photo ID. If your child doesn’t have one, you can assist them in getting one.
- Under Minnesota law a party can contract with a minor, however the contract is not enforceable against a minor. Because of this a Lawyer may require a third party such as you the grandparent, to sign a contract guaranteeing payment of fees for services. Understand that even if you are paying the bill, your child is the client and the obligation of the attorney is to the client, not to the party paying the bills.
- A certified copy of the recognition of parentage will be required in any action where the parties are not married. You can help your child request one from the Minnesota Department of Vital Statistics.
- Issues surrounding custody and child support can be complicated when it involves teenage parents. Help your child get informed by speaking with an attorney versed in Minnesota family law. The decisions that get made now will affect the present day and future of both your child and grandchild.