Does the Mother Automatically Have Full Custody in California?

15Dec, 22

Child custody can become increasingly contentious, especially in divorce proceedings. Although the court has favored giving mothers full custody in the past, the decision as to which parent receives full custody is left up to the court’s discretion. Each custody situation is extremely nuanced, and the decisions made by the court to carry out these arrangements vary from case to case. Understanding the factors that go into these decisions is crucial for reaching a reasonable resolution for all parties involved.


How Is Custody Decided?

Depending on whether the parents of a child are married, child custody is decided in either one of two ways. If the parents of a child are unmarried, custody will automatically be granted to the mother. However, if a mother is unfit to care for her child, the court can decide to place that child in the father’s custody if he is present. If he is also unable to take care of the child, another relative or foster parent could become that child’s legal guardian.

When deciding custody for children of divorced parents, the court will consider each parent’s capabilities and previous obligations to their child. Anything from keeping up with medical records to school-related responsibilities to general involvement in a child’s life will be factored into the court’s decision. They will also use any evidence presented by either side that can prove that parent’s reliability as a caretaker. For example, if a mother can prove that she is better suited to be her child’s custodial guardian, she can present this to the court to help them make a final decision. Typically, custody agreements are decided during the divorce process. However, if one parent believes that their abilities to parent a shared child are superior to those of their former spouse, these can become highly contested.

Factors That Affect Child Custody

The court will always incorporate all factors that can affect a child’s well-being into a custody decision. Proving certain factors, or ensuring that they get properly represented in a custody hearing, is crucial to properly pleading one’s case. Some of the biggest factors that can affect the outcome of a custody case include:

  • Paternity: For married couples, paternity is automatically established at birth, naming the husband the parent of a shared child. However, for unmarried couples, paternity can be established by voluntary recognition from both parents or through a court order. Paternity can be used to aid fathers in advocating for custody. It could also help mothers trying to win custody prove that the man claiming parental rights has no genetic ties to a particular child.
  • Ability to Care for a Child: This factor ranges from employment status to the health and security of a parent. For example, if a parent does not have a stable job, or is unable to work due to an illness or disability, the court can factor this into a custody agreement. This will ensure that the parent best equipped for full custody is awarded that title.
  • Connection With the Child: Being present in a child’s life is crucial for their development, and the California courts understand this. Being active and current in a child’s life, ranging from being involved in school activities to taking them to medical or dental appointments, can be used as proof of active involvement in that child’s life.

Custody hearings are always stressful for all parties involved, especially the children. To make the process as smooth as possible, the court will consider all factors when deciding on full custody. This will allow that child to grow up in the most supportive environment possible.


Q: How can a mother get full custody in California?

A: California does not have any formal statutes that favor either parent in a custody decision. However, there are ways to help convince the court that one parent is better suited for full custody than the other. In California, a parent seeking sole custody must provide convincing justification. To grant one parent exclusive custody, the court must find a compelling basis that is consistent with the best interests of the children.

Q: Do moms always get custody in California?

A: If the mother is not married to the father, she is automatically given custody of the child. Unmarried moms are not required to file lawsuits to defend their parental rights or to decide whether to include the father in their children’s lives. The unmarried mother will be solely accountable for the child’s overall well-being, including housing, schooling, medical treatment, etc. To receive full custody, the unmarried mother must be physically and mentally faultless, based on the discretion of the court.

Q: Who has sole custody of a child in California?

A: Per California Family Code § 3007, a child will live with and be under the supervision of one parent in a sole physical custody arrangement, subject to the court’s ability to order visitation. As a result, a child will reside with the custodial parent, who may be either the mother or father. The other parent will likely receive “visitation rights” if only one parent has primary physical custody.

Q: Do mothers have more rights than fathers in California?

A: California does not have any laws about the father’s rights specifically. Custody battles are left to the court to decide, regardless of the gender of the parent. Although unwed mothers are granted full custody of their children automatically, the father of a shared child can bring evidence before a court proving his ability to better parent a shared child if necessary.

Seeking Legal Help for Child Custody

The media tends to depict custody battles as favoring mothers, but this is far from the truth. The court will always evaluate a custody case thoroughly and decide who is better suited to parent a shared child, regardless of gender. In some cases, mothers are favored as better-suited parents for their children; in others, a father is considered more than able to parent a child. In all custody battles, seeking legal representation to help advocate for parental rights is crucial to helping any child be placed in the right home. At the Law Offices of Michelanne Hrubic, we can support those dealing with custody disputes, so contact us to get started on your case today.

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