Custody Rights of Unmarried Mothers in California

Now that we’re in the 21st century, more children are being born out of wedlock than ever before. Not only has having children outside of marriage become socially acceptable in today’s society, it’s become normal. However, with the rise of children being born to unmarried parents, it has raised questions about custody rights. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to discuss the custody rights of unwed mothers.

When a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother automatically has sole legal and physical custody of her child. Legal custody refers to making important decisions on the child’s behalf (e.g. healthcare, education, childcare, etc.), while physical custody refers to having actual physical care of the child. Until paternity is legally established, the mother has all the rights.

With sole custody, the mother can made decisions about:

  • Who can visit her child
  • Childcare
  • Healthcare
  • Where the child lives
  • If the father can see his child
  • Applying for public benefits on the child’s behalf

Until paternity is established, the child’s biological father has zero rights and responsibilities toward his child. Going further, the family courts cannot issue child support, child custody, or visitation orders until paternity is established.

Even though an unmarried mother has sole legal and physical custody when her child is born, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t let the father help her out and visit with his child. If the mother intends to seek child support and if the father intends to seek custody in the future, it would be in both parents’ best interests if they strove to help each other. Not only that, but it’s the child who benefits by financial support and bonding with their father.

In other words, the mother should let the father see his child regularly (assuming he doesn’t threaten the child’s safety and well-being), and the father should contribute to the child’s financial support even if no orders have been issued by the court yet. When the parents seek to do what’s right, it is appreciated by the court when court orders are later sought for child support and child custody.

Have a Paternity, Custody, or Support Case?

Whether you’re an unwed mother or father, Cutter & Lax can help. We can look at the facts of your case, answer your legal questions, and help navigate you through your family law matter. To learn more about paternity, child custody, and child support, contact us today!