If you’re an unmarried mother (or father), you probably have questions about custody. What are your rights? Does your child’s father have any rights? Can you make all the decisions for your son or daughter, or can the father have a say in how you raise your child?
As we provide insight on this topic, we are assuming you have never been married to the father. We are assuming you were not married to anyone else when your child was born, and we’re assuming there are no court orders that give anyone custody or visitation of your child. If any of this isn’t true, the information in this article may not apply to you.
The Law is Clear on Unwed Mothers
When it comes to children born out of wedlock (outside of marriage), the law is clear: When a mother gives birth to a child and she is single, she automatically has custody of her child. When an unmarried woman has a child, she automatically has legal and physical custody.
As an unmarried mother in California, you have legal and physical custody of your child without having to go to court. Legal custody refers to having decision-making power on behalf of your child and physical custody refers to having your child in your actual care. By having legal and physical custody of your child, it means you have the right to:
- Decide who sees your child
- Restrict who can see your child
- Enroll your child in daycare or school
- Obtain medical treatment
- Select a pediatrician for your child
- Take your child to the hospital
- Hire a babysitter
- Decide who can watch your child
- Obtain public benefits for your child
- Decide what religion your child is raised in
Custody Can Still Change
Even though you have custody of your child now, that doesn’t mean it will stay the way it is now forever. The courts can change child custody at a future date; for example, if the child’s father asks the court for a DNA test and paternity is established, he can seek custody or visitation, but that also means that you can seek child support after paternity is confirmed.
If the father seeks custody, it doesn’t mean it will be awarded automatically. The court will carefully review the facts of the case and will issue a decision based on the “best interests of the child” doctrine. The court will look at a number of factors, such as who has been caring for the child and whether you have allowed the father to visit with his child, among several others. Unless you have concerns about the child’s health and safety in the father’s care, it’s a good idea to allow reasonable visits, even if a court order has yet to be issued.