California Child Custody Rights for Unmarried Parents


If you have a child, your rights as a parent – in terms of child custody – are naturally a top priority, but if you are not married, you may have concerns about what your child custody rights are, and you are well advised to pursue these concerns. In California, the mother of any child who is born outside of marriage has full legal and physical custody by dint of her being the biological mother – and she need not take any further legal steps to obtain child custody rights. From here, however, things tend to become far more complicated, and it’s wise to have an experienced California child custody attorney in your corner.

If You Are the Father

If you are the father – or the other parent – of a child who is born to you when you are not married to the mother or if you are part of a couple, but your name is not included on your child’s birth certificate at the time of their birth, you won’t be awarded child custody rights until you establish paternity or parentage – or that you are the child’s other parent – with the court. If you and the mother both agree on your child’s paternity or parentage, establishing paternity or parentage is as easy as filing a form with the appropriate court. If the child’s mother, however, refuses to sign off on the matter, you will need to petition the court to establish paternity via genetic testing – unless the mother instigates testing by seeking child support.

Legal and Physical Custody in California

California addresses child custody in terms of both legal and physical custody. Legal custody relates to a parent’s right to make important decisions that help guide their child’s upbringing. The kinds of decisions involved include those concerning:

  • Your child’s healthcare
  • Your child’s schooling
  • Your child’s travel and extracurricular activities
  • Your child’s religious upbringing

Physical custody determines the schedule by which both parents – when both parents are in the picture – divide their time with the child. Both legal and physical custody can be approached from a wide range of angles in terms of how you and your child’s mother will share or divide these rights between you.

The Benefits of Establishing Paternity

Establishing paternity is not only in your best interests as your child’s unmarried father – or other parent – but is also in the best interests of your child and your child’s mother for a wide range of reasons.

Your Child’s Best Interests

Experts in child development agree that, when there is no glaring reason for ruling otherwise, children are universally better off when they are allowed the opportunity to have deep, abiding, and close relationships with both parents, which means spending time with both parents. To help seal the deal, children benefit from having their other parent in their lives in all the additional following ways:

  • Children have the right to inherit from their other parent – in accordance with state laws of inheritance.
  • Children have the right to benefit from employment-based insurance that originates with the other parent – in addition to any veterans or social security benefits.
  • Children benefit from the additional financial support provided by the other parent.
  • Children can benefit from the alleviation of some of the stress that is commonly associated with raising a child alone.

Your Best Interests

It is difficult to overstate the benefits that can flow to you when you establish your child’s paternity or parentage. The bond between parent and child is strong and tends to be unbreakable, which represents a level of love and affection that is difficult to achieve in any other relationship. Additionally, a child is the best example of your legacy in this world, and the depth of the relationship you forge with them may surpass your highest expectations.

The Mother’s Best Interests

The mother can benefit both emotionally and financially from having her child’s other parent in the picture. Consider the following:

  • She benefits from the child support paid and any payments taken over by the other parent.
  • She benefits by having the opportunity to take regular breaks from parenting duty.
  • She can benefit in terms of sharing the decision-making responsibility for the child and in terms of sharing the highs and lows of parenting.

An Experienced California Child Custody Attorney Can Help

If you are not married to your child’s mother, establishing paternity or parentage and your attendant parenting rights is key, and a compassionate child custody attorney is standing by to help.