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Child Custody and Visitation Rights for Unmarried Parents in California

Child custody and visitation matters can be complex and emotionally challenging, particularly for unmarried parents. In the state of California, there are specific legal guidelines and considerations that unmarried parents must understand to protect their rights and ensure the best interests of their child are met. 


Understanding the Legal Framework

Under California Family Code §7611, when a child is born to a married couple, the birth mother and her spouse are presumed parents of the child. However, under California Family Code §7610, if parents are not married, the mother automatically gains custody of a child at birth. Unlike married couples who have the presumption of shared custody, unmarried parents must establish legal paternity to secure their rights and responsibilities concerning their child. Establishing paternity is the crucial first step for unmarried parents seeking custody or visitation rights. To learn more about custody, click here.


Legal Paternity

Establishing legal paternity is crucial for unmarried parents to secure custody rights. In California, when a child is born to unmarried parents, there is no automatic legal recognition of paternity even if a father is listed on a child’s birth certificate. (See In re Kiana A. (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 1116-1118  [a man listed as father on birth certificate was not enough to establish presumed father status].)


However, there are several ways to establish paternity:


Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (DOP): Signing a voluntary DOP form at the hospital or afterward is the simplest method. Both parents must sign the form, acknowledging the biological father. Once signed, it establishes legal paternity and grants the father the same rights and responsibilities as if he were married to the mother such as the ability to seek court orders for visitation and/or custody of the child.


These legal rights and responsibilities also include payments of child support and holds the father responsible for child support. We have a series on how child support is awarded in California for further information regarding this specific issue here.


Petition to Establish a Parental Relationship: If there is a dispute between parents, a parent can file a paternity action in family court. This legal action can be taken to legally establish who the parents of the child are.


Determining Custody and Visitation

After paternity is established, formal custody or visitation agreements can be set in place. In determining such arrangements, California family courts prioritize the best interests of the child. California family courts typically favor arrangements that involve both parents because of the belief that children benefit from having relationship with both parents, however, the court may sometimes decide otherwise after weighing all factors. The court considers many factors such as the child’s health, safety, and wellbeing as well as parental involvement and parent’s abilities to communicate and cooperate as co-parents.


Conclusion

For unmarried parents in California seeking child custody and visitation rights, the process involves establishing legal paternity and demonstrating a commitment to the child's best interests. By understanding the legal framework and engaging in effective communication, parents can navigate the complexities that present themselves in such situations.


At Harris & McKeown Law Firm, we understand the level of knowledge and diligence it takes to successfully establish parental rights. Our team of Certified Family Law Specialists have been assisting clients throughout Orange County and the surrounding Southern California area with their custody disputes and paternity actions for over 10 years.


If you are currently facing a child custody battle or have questions regarding your rights as an unmarried parent and would like to discuss your options in a confidential consultation with a Southern California Certified Family Law Specialist, schedule an appointment online or by calling (949) 297-6529.




**DISCLAIMER**


THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.

EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT AND THIS GUIDE SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS

LEGAL ADVICE. THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY CLIENT

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE READER AND ITS AUTHOR. IF YOU HAVE LEGAL QUESTIONS, CONSULT WITH A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY.

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