Unmarried mothers' rights to child custody

Updated March 16, 2017

Although laws very slightly from one state to another, major provisions pertaining to an unmarried mother's rights to child custody largely are the same. Although a birth father has the right to seek custody of a child born out of wedlock, the laws tend to favour the mother in such a situation, particularly during infancy.


Unless a clear demonstration exists that an unmarried birth mother is unfit, her rights to child custody take precedence over an attempt by the birth father to attempt to gain custody.

Support of Birth Father During Pregnancy

A birth father who clearly provides financial and other types of support during the course of a pregnancy is in a better position to claim custody of a child when born. However, the preference usually still leaves the child in the custody of the mother with regular parenting time awarded to the father.

Older Child

Assuming the father remains involved in a child's life as she grows older, the court may become inclined to consider awarding custody to a father. With that noted, the mother becomes protected by a high standard associated with changing custody known as a material change of circumstances. Absent a showing that the mother is unfit, her custody rights will remain in place.

Paternity Determination

An unmarried mother can seek an official paternity determination as part of her rights to child custody. The law provides her procedures to bring the presumed father to court for DNA or paternity testing.

Child Support

An unmarried mother's rights to child custody include the payment of child support from the birth father. Once a paternity order is in place, the father will receive an order to pay child support pursuant to the guidelines established by state law.

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About the Author

Mike Broemmel began writing in 1982. He is an author/lecturer with two novels on the market internationally, "The Shadow Cast" and "The Miller Moth." Broemmel served on the staff of the White House Office of Media Relations. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and political science from Benedictine College and a Juris Doctorate from Washburn University. He also attended Brunel University, London.