About Child Custody for Unmarried Mothers in California

You have just experienced one of your life’s joyous occasions—the birth of your bundle of joy. At the same time, you’re experiencing one of life’s greatest nightmares—a custody squabble with the child’s father, as you are not currently married to him.

The question is, what are unmarried mothers’ custody rights in California? And does the father of your child have any rights, too, according to child custody laws in California?

Here’s an overview of everything you need to know about your custody rights as a single mother in California.

Unmarried MothersRights in California: Is California a “Mother State”?

Decades ago, women in California and other states predominantly served as their families’ primary caretakers, and therefore, they mostly received custody of their children. However, today, most states’ custody laws generally don’t favor either mothers or fathers, so there is no such thing as a “mother state” or a “father state.”

With that being said, California custody laws for unmarried parents in particular do favor mothers. Based on California Family Code 7610, which covers unmarried mothersrights in California, unwed mothers automatically gain full custody of their children upon birth. Unmarried mothers do not have to take any legal action to assert their custodial rights. This means that their children can live with them (physical custody), and they maintain sole responsibility for meeting their children’s needs. These mothers can also make all decisions concerning their children’s education, living arrangements, and health care (legal custody).

The reason for this is that if you’re an unwed woman and you give birth to a child, paternity must legally be established before the child is considered to have a father in the eyes of the law. Until paternity has been established with the court, the father of your child has no custody rights and therefore no responsibilities to the child. As a result, you cannot demand any child support, and likewise, the father cannot demand child visitation or custody. This is true even if the father has his name on your baby’s birth certificate.

mom blowing bubbles with son

Unmarried Mothers’ Full Custody Rights in California

Unmarried mothersrights in California are numerous and include the following according to child custody laws in California:

  • Right to determine where a child will live
  • Right to choose a pediatrician
  • Right to have the child see a doctor or go to the hospital
  • Right to determine who will watch the child
  • Right to have the child enrolled in school or daycare
  • Right to get public benefits to cover the child’s needs

Based on unmarried mothers’ custody rights laws, you can, however, decide to allow your child to see or live with his or her father. Likewise, you may allow the father to play a role in the decisions you make for your child if you wish. But you are ultimately responsible for the decisions made on your child’s behalf. A soon as the father of your child establishes paternity, though, he will legally be allowed to make decisions on the behalf of your child, too.

mom with daughter along the street

Let’s say that your child’s father has established paternity and thus can be granted child custody/visitation. In this situation, you may not want him to have custody and visitation rights for a variety of reasons, in which case you could seek sole custody. Sole custody is where you would have your baby 24/7 and his or her father would not be permitted to visit with the child. (This is different from full custody, where you would have your baby 24/7 and his or her father could have visitation with your child.)

Here are some situations in which you could be awarded sole custody by the court as an unmarried mother according to child custody laws in California:

  • The father has engaged in domestic violence.
  • The father has made phony abuse allegations against you.
  • The father emotionally abuses your child.
  • The father is a flight risk because of the allegations you plan to make against him.
  • The father has abused your child.
  • The father has a problem with substance abuse.
  • The father does not possess the necessary skills for caring for your child.

Common FAQ About Custody for Unmarried Mothers

Can an Unmarried Mother Move out of State?

When it comes to unmarried mothersmove-away rights in California, if both you and the father agree on the move and are willing to adjust the terms of your custody arrangement, you can go ahead and move. However, if this is not the case, you must obtain court approval before you move, whether outside of or inside California. Note that moving away in California is generally considered to be relocating at least 50 miles away from your current home.

Who Has Custody of a Child If There Is No Court Order in California?

According to unmarried mothers’ custody rights laws, if no court order is in place, you as an unmarried mother maintain full child custody (physical and legal custody). Your child’s father cannot take your child until and unless he has been awarded custody by the court.

How Can an Unwed Mother Protect Her Custody Rights?

You can best protect your unmarried mothers’ custody rights by being a good parent—the best one you can be. This is because your child’s father may try to claim that you are not fit to be a parent. As long as you uphold your parental responsibilities, you can expect to keep your custody rights.

Seek Guidance on Child Custody Matters with Family Law Attorney Michael C. MacNeil Today

If you are trying to navigate unmarried mothersrights in California, I, attorney Michael C. MacNeil, can help. I have personally experienced the challenges of divorce, so I am passionate about helping my clients to navigate divorce and other family law matters ranging from child custody to restraining orders and step-parent adoption.

I would be glad to serve as your personal legal representative. Get in touch with me for a free family law consultation today.

Please call or contact our office online to arrange for an appointment about your case today.

About Michael MacNeil

Michael C. MacNeil is a San Diego Family Law and Criminal Defense attorney. With a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, MacNeil has a solid understanding of our justice system. As a member of the State Bar of California, MacNeal can practice before all courts in the state. MacNeil believes that the law should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. With over 20 years of experience, Michael C. MacNeil is passionate about the law and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you. Call Mr. MacNeil at 858-922-7098.