Skip to Content
Call Us Today! 559-900-1263

Rights of Unwed Fathers in California


“One-in-four parents living with a child in the United States today are unmarried. Driven by declines in marriage overall, as well as increases in births outside of marriage, this marks a dramatic change from a half-century ago, when fewer than one-in-ten parents living with their children were unmarried (7%),” according to Pew Research Center.

“Due primarily to the rising number of cohabiting parents, the share of unmarried parents who are fathers has more than doubled over the past 50 years. Now, 29% of all unmarried parents who reside with their children are fathers, compared with just 12% in 1968.”

Given the dramatic shift in the percentage of married parents, many questions have risen about the rights of unwed fathers. Do unmarried fathers have any child custody rights? In this article, we address this question in detail.

No Paternity, No Father’s Rights

When a child is born to unmarried parents, the child’s mother has sole legal and physical custody of her child. “Legal custody” refers to making important decisions on a child’s behalf, such as those concerning education, childcare, healthcare, and religious upbringing. On the other hand, “physical custody” refers to having the child in one’s actual care. While an unmarried mother has these rights, the biological father has none until paternity is established.

What does this all mean?

  • The father is not obligated to pay child support;
  • The mother can’t demand child support;
  • The father can’t demand custody;
  • The father can’t ask the court for custody;
  • The mother has sole discretion on who sees her child and when;
  • The father is encouraged to help the mom out financially; and
  • If the father doesn’t risk the child’s safety and well-being, the mother should encourage the father to bond with the child and develop a relationship with them, even if the court has yet to issue a child custody order.

Establishing Paternity in Fresno

To “establish paternity” is to determine who a child’s legal father is. This is generally done by both parents signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (usually at the hospital after the child’s birth), or by asking for a court-ordered DNA test.

Until paternity is established, the father has zero rights and responsibilities toward his child and the family courts cannot issue orders for child support or child custody. If you’re interested in opening a paternity, child support, or child custody case, contact Arnold Law Group, APC.

Share To: