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Who Gets Child Custody in California When the Parents Aren’t Married?

Who Gets Child Custody in California When the Parents Aren't Married?

Normally when a child is born to a married couple, both parents receive full custody that is shared between the two of them. This is true as long as neither parent takes the other parent to divorce and/or custody court and that both parents don’t have any legal setbacks affecting their automatic custody over their own child.

But things are certainly different when an unmarried couple has children together, two people bring new life into the world while they’re in the middle of divorcing or shortly after they divorce, or spouses who already have children together – married or not – decide to split sometime after the child(ren) are born.

In these cases, child custody can get trickier. Dictating which parents have custody isn’t always a piece of cake.

Establishing Parental Rights

Before child custody can be determined in the state of California, it must be proven who the father is. Normally when a couple is married, the male is automatically deemed the legal father, and thus, he establishes paternity by law. This is true as long as the child was born during the course of the marriage. However, for unmarried couples, either the parents or the court itself must make the determination if a man is the legal and biological father before determining any sort of custody and visitation rights.

Keep in mind that the court will often favor a stable marriage when establishing parental rights over the biological father.

How Child Custody Determined in California

California courts determine child custody for unmarried couples based on a variety of information. This information includes the relationship the child has with both parents, what the child wishes, the parents’ health and capability to care for the child, past circumstances that may determine if one or both parents are unfit to raise the child (e.g., past domestic/child abuse, drug use, questionable parenting tactics, etc.), how the child fits in with the household and/or other household members, and if one parent is/was the primary caregiver previously.

Let a Family Law Attorney Help You.

Determining parental rights and child custody in California can be a long process. One or both parents involved may find themselves indecisive, stressed out, and unable to come to a compromise. However, it’s a process worth doing with the right Family Law attorney. A good attorney can ensure the child is able to get the best outcome, so they can flourish.

Contact Torrence L. Howell, a long-time Family Law attorney who has experience working with child custody cases, at (909) 920-0908.


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My ex-wife hired an attorney which prompted me to do so for our divorce. Torrence Howell was highly recommended from a friend of mine who used Torrence’s services for a divorce just like mine. The results came out much better than he ever thought it would. With all things being equal I felt Torrence would

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