Child Custody in California Frequently Asked Questions

Navigating child custody can understandably be confusing and thus overwhelming in California. This is especially true for unmarried parents in California. That’s because in California, child custody laws for unmarried parents differ from those for married parents. Here is a rundown on FAQ and related answers involving child custody and parental rights in California.

Parental Rights in California

What Are Mothers’ Rights Related to Child Custody in California

A mother’s child custody rights in California are automatic, and the same is true in every other state. That’s because mothers immediately receive legal custody of their children without being required to go through the court process. This means unwed mothers have the following rights:

  • They can determine where their children will live.
  • They can select pediatricians for the children.
  • They can take their children to doctors or hospitals.
  • They can determine who will watch their children.
  • They can enroll their children in school or daycare.
  • They can receive public financial benefits for their children.

When It Comes to Parental Rights in California, Is California a Mother State?

As a general rule of thumb, the law doesn’t inherently favor mothers when it comes to child custody in California. However, California judges do recognize how important it is to preserve the child’s relationship with the mother.

Still, all cases regarding custody require critical analyses of the circumstances and facts involved. If the mother involved in a child custody case in California is abusing drugs or alcohol in the child’s home, then the father may end up receiving custody of the child instead of the mother. The same is true if the mother is found to be engaging in child abuse or domestic violence, is incarcerated in federal or state prison, or has abandoned her childrearing responsibilities.

What Are an Unmarried Father’s Parental Rights in California?

If unmarried fathers are proved/presumed to be their children’s biological fathers, they may ask for child custody and/or visitation in California. Custody laws in California favor coparenting, so it’s not uncommon for unmarried parents to receive joint custody.

Note that with joint custody, parenting time typically isn’t split 50/50 between the two parents. Instead, the parenting time is divided in a fair manner between the parents based on their unique circumstances and schedules. Also, keep in mind that if the mother is hostile toward the father’s involvement (for instance, she refuses to cooperate with him), then a California court may consider her to be unfit to receive custody after all.

Unmarried Child Custody in California

Who Has Custody of a Child Born out of Wedlock in California?

If a child is born out of wedlock, California law automatically grants the mother custody of the child. Thus, the mother generally doesn’t have to go to court to pursue child custody in California.

On the contrary, unwed fathers aren’t automatically presumed to be their children’s biological fathers. Until their paternity has been established, the fathers do not have legal standing with regard to matters involving child custody/ visitation in California. In addition, family courts can’t help unmarried mothers to obtain child support if paternity has not been established.

What Is California’s Family Code 7610 for Unwed Mothers?

According to this law in California, an unwed mother is immediately granted custody following her child’s birth. There is no need for taking legal action and fighting for custody unless an order from the court states otherwise. In addition, note that mothers may determine the amounts of time that fathers can spend with their children.

Does an Unwed Mother Have Sole Custody in California?

Yes. The unwed father has no right to his biological child if he does not establish legal paternity. This means that only the unwed mother can make decisions concerning the child. In addition, the unwed mother could deny visitation or even move away regardless of any objections made by the father.

Can One Parent Get Full Custody If Unmarried?

When it comes to child custody in California, if two parents aren’t married when their child is born, the mother is automatically given custody rights. This means she is the child’s sole legal and physical custodian unless an order from the court specifies otherwise. As a result, she can decide who will see her child, restrict others from visiting her child, and make critical decisions concerning the child’s wellbeing.

Long-Distance Custody

San Diego firefighter on the beach watching people surf

How Does Long-Distance Custody Work?

When two parents share children but expect to live far away from each other, they should create a parenting agreement and visitation schedule that will satisfy both sides and also be in the children’s best interests. One parent will receive primary physical custody of the children, whereas the other parent will have visitation opportunities.

A visitation schedule typically permits a distanced parent to visit his or her children within the children’s community multiple times per year. In this situation, the two parents should determine how long every visit will last. Also, visits should not end up interfering with the other party’s allocated holidays. The children could also travel to stay with the distanced children for a certain period of time.

Note that the children’s ages should also be considered when the parents are determining the frequency and length of visitation. The parents may develop a unique custody arrangement for each child depending on his or her age and stage in life.

How Do We Set up a Long-Distance Co-Parenting Plan After Divorce?

When it comes to setting up long-distance parenting plans in California, it is critical that both parents establish a clear schedule that outlines when their children will live with each of them. The schedule should reflect the established dates for parental visits as well as holidays and vacations. For instance, in many long-distance co-parenting situations, the children will visit with one of the parents during the summer months and live with the other one during the remainder of the year.

Also, the parenting plan should spell out how the children will go to and from the parents’ homes. For instance, it is not uncommon for the two parents to work out meeting halfway to exchange the children. However, in some cases, children must take airplanes. In these scenarios, the parents should come to an agreement on who will pay for the flights.

How Far Can a Parent Move with Primary Custody? 

If a parent has primary custody and decides to move, then he or she is deemed to have the right to relocate anywhere. Thus, it is not necessary to justify this move as necessary or wise. However, if the other parent (noncustodial parent) is able to demonstrate that the custodial parent moved in an effort to destroy the children’s relationships with the other parent, then the custodial parent might have to provide justification for the move.

How Far Apart Can Parents Live and Still Have 50/50 Custody?

There generally is no black-and-white rule regarding this. Rather, judges will determine the most appropriate distance based on what they believe is in the best interests of the children. If parents do end up splitting their time 50/50, this is usually an arrangement that both parents agree to and have convinced the court to approve as well.

Seeking Child Custody in California

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

If no child custody court order is in place in California but the mother and father are married, then both parties immediately share legal custody unless a court says otherwise. As a result, both parties can make key decisions regarding their child’s life.

Meanwhile, let’s say that the two parents are not married. In this situation, the mother maintains sole physical and sole legal custody unless a court orders otherwise. However, if paternity ends up being established, the father may pursue and receive sole or shared custody depending on the circumstances of the case.

How Do I File for Sole Custody in California? 

Filing for sole custody is a process that begins with filling out multiple forms. For instance, during a separation or divorce in California, you’ll have to file an order request form and an order application form. Then, the request must be served on your child’s other parent so that he or she can respond in court. Meanwhile, if no separation or divorce is taking place, then a custody petition should be filed instead of an order request form.

Contact the Law Office of Michael C. MacNeil today to receive a free consultation regarding your parental rights in California and get started on establishing a custody arrangement with your and your kids’ best interests in mind.

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.