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Custodial Rights of Unwed Mothers in California

If you’re an unwed mother and you gave birth to a child, you’re probably wanting to know what your legal rights are in regard to custody of your son or daughter. You’re likely wondering what rights the child’s father has, if any. In this article, we discuss the custody rights of unmarried mothers in California.

When a child is born to an unwed mother, the mother automatically has sole legal and physical custody of her child. “Legal custody” means she can make all important decisions about her child, and that is her right alone. Such decisions include:

  • Who can see her child, when and for how long
  • Who can watch her child
  • If and where her child will receive childcare
  • Selecting her child’s healthcare providers
  • Deciding on the child’s religious upbringing
  • Applying for public benefits on the child’s behalf

“Physical custody” means having the child in one’s care. When an unmarried mother has a baby, she automatically has sole legal and physical custody of her child without having to go to court. If she doesn’t want the baby’s biological father to see his child, she doesn’t have to let him. However, if he’s a good person who intends to be in the child’s life and seek custody and visitation rights, it would be best for the mother to let him visit with his child, even if a court order is not yet in place.

The above assumes the mother was not married to anyone at the time of the child’s birth and that no custody and visitation orders were in effect letting anyone have custody or visitation of the child. If any of those facts are not true, this information may not apply.

Child Custody Can Change

If you’re an unwed mother and you have sole legal and physical custody right now, that doesn’t mean it’s permanent. If the father requests a paternity test and paternity is confirmed, it is possible for the court to issue child custody and visitation orders. You will also be able to ask for child support once paternity is established, but not before because it’s a requirement.

If you’re an unwed mother and you have safety concerns about the child’s father being in their life but it’s looking like a court case is in the works, we urge you to contact Cage & Miles to get your pressing questions answered and establish a sound plan of action.