Child Custody Rights for Mothers in California

By Alisa Stevens

Parents' custody rights vary from state to state. Historically, courts favored mothers when granting custody, but California focuses on the health, safety and welfare of the child. Judges base custody decisions on what is in the best interests of the child, and neither parent is preferred based on gender. Courts look closely at which parent was the primary caregiver, reviewing who took the children to school and doctor’s appointments, picked them up from school, helped with homework and planned daily activities.


In California, there is no presumption that a mother is entitled to custody of her child. Both parents are equally entitled to custody of a minor child. The court’s primary concern is the “necessary or proper” arrangement for the child, not the gender of the parent. In fact, the state of California presumes that joint custody is most often in the best interests of the child. It is up to the parents to either work together to create a joint custody and visitation plan that works, or to file for a different custody arrangement.

Best Interests of the Child

Under California Family Code, Section 3011, judges evaluate several factors before making custody decisions in the best interests of the child. These factors include the child’s health, safety and welfare; any history of abuse; the nature and amount of contact the child has had with the parents; and drug use by either parent. In addition, the judge will take into consideration the opinions and preferences of children if she deems it in their best interest. The law generally provides this option for children 14 or older, but the court will hear from younger children in certain cases.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Child Support

Caring for a child is the responsibility of both parents regardless of the custody arrangement. California provides mothers with the right to financial support for their children. Factors determining the amount of support include the salaries of each parent and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Mothers with primary or sole custody generally receive more monetary support than those with joint custody. For divorced parents, child support requirements are determined during the divorce proceedings and included in the final decree.

Unwed Mothers

Under California Family Code Section 7610, an unwed mother automatically gains custody of her child upon birth. No legal action is required to assert her custodial rights. She is solely responsible for providing for her child and making decisions regarding his living arrangements, health care and education. Barring any court order, the mother determines what, if any contact, the father has with the child. However, unless paternity is established, the mother has no right to child support from the father in this situation.


As with married or divorced mothers, custody rights for an unwed mother include financial support from the child’s father. However, proof of paternity is required in order to initiate child support proceedings. When parents are married, paternity is automatically established when a child is born. An unwed mother needs to prove paternity in order to establish her rights to child support from the birth father; to access to his family medical records and health insurance; and to any of his government benefits. Fathers can voluntarily fill out a declaration of paternity at birth or after the mother initiates child support proceedings. If the paternity is contested, California law allows a mother to file papers in family court ordering the presumed father to take a paternity test.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Parental Rights in a Non Married Relationship



Related articles

Father's Rights in Indiana

The fathers' rights movement is a response to perceived injustices in the family court system throughout the country. Advocates for both fathers and children have brought about significant changes in child custody law over the past few decades, and many divorced fathers can look forward to increased time with their children and even primary custody. Indiana, like most states, uses a "best interests of the child" standard and considers each child custody case based on the individual circumstances of the family. As a result, there aren't explicit rules for the amount of time each father gets with his child. There are, however, numerous laws and procedures that can protect the rights of fathers.

California Child Custody Laws About Moving Away

California, like other states, considers the best interests of the child when making custody determinations. Judges recognize that when one parent moves away from the other, this can interfere with the other parent's visitation rights and prove harmful to the children. Consequently, California has established specific procedures to follow for parents who wish to move away from their child's other parent.

Dad's Rights to Sole Custody

Fathers had few rights in custody battles in the 20th century. That changed somewhat in the millennium. However, the change takes the form of courts being willing to at least consider giving a father sole physical custody, with his children living with him and having minimal contact or visitation with their mother. Fathers still face an uphill battle in actually achieving sole custody of their children.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Tennessee Law for Granting Custody to People Who Are Not Married

Tennessee child custody statutes overwhelmingly support the mother in cases where the parents of a child are not ...

The Custody of Kids When Not Married in Mississippi

In most states, when an unmarried woman gives birth, she automatically and legally has sole custody of her child. ...

California Family Laws on Terminating Child Support

Both parents have a responsibility to provide for the financial needs of their minor children in California. When one ...

Child Custody Rights for 12 Years & Older

Establishing child custody can be a highly contentious aspect of divorce. Although each parent may feel entitled to a ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED