pregnant woman

What Are the Custody Rights of an Unmarried Mother?

In 2019, unmarried mothers gave birth to 40% of all children. This number hasn't changed too much over the last two decades, but it has doubled since 1980. Since we can expect this number to increase over time slowly, we must understand child custody laws. If you are an unmarried mother and need legal support and representation, Hickey and Hull Law Partners can help.

How is Custody Determined?

In Arkansas, the court gives an unmarried mother automatic child custody.

A mother receives immediate custody for several reasons:

  • Feeding–many mothers breastfeed, so the child must stay with them overnight.
  • Nurturing–traditionally, mothers are more nurturing than men, so an infant should be with its mother.
  • Birthing–when a mother gives birth, there is no doubt she is the legal parent, whereas there is a question about who the child's father is. Courts can safely assume that married parents are a child's biological parents, but they cannot safely make that assumption for unmarried couples.

Although Arkansas courts give mothers custody, the court can rule otherwise. Therefore, the mother must show she can take care of the child.

If a man claims to be the child's father, there is a process for him to follow; otherwise, he won't receive visitation or custody rights without proving paternity.

What About the Father?

If a man claims to be the father of a child, but he is not married to the mother, he must establish paternity with a DNA test. If you are an unmarried father of the child, you can find DNA tests at a local test lab or through a court order.

Without proof of paternity, an unmarried father has no visitation or custody rights. Similarly, the mother cannot request child support from a man who has not proven he is the father.

If a man proves he is the father, determining child custody is slightly different from usual if the child is an infant or toddler. In most cases, the child custody arrangements require the child to be with the mother overnight because the court believes the child must be with her for feeding or nurturing purposes. The child's legal father is responsible for child support payments with established paternity.

Nonetheless, as a child grows, the custody and visitation rights can change if the father remains in the child's life or the parents marry.


Custody rights must change for a child born to unmarried parents. In most cases, the mother can prove she can raise the child, so she automatically receives custody rights. For the father to acquire any rights, he must establish paternity through a DNA test even if his name is on the child's birth certificate.

The court process for custody cases where the parents are not married is challenging and trying. They require the utmost cooperation between the court and unmarried parents. You must have a family law attorney ready to assist you along the way. Whether you are an unmarried mother or father, we can help you secure legal custody and a custody arrangement.