We provide the first review of phylogenetic transitions in parental care and live bearing for a wide variety of vertebrates. This includes new analyses of both numbers of transitions and transition probabilities. These reveal numerous transitions by shorebirds and anurans toward uniparental care by either sex. Whereas most or all of the shorebird transitions were from biparental care, nearly all of the anuran transitions have been from no care, reflecting the prevalence of each form of care in basal lineages in each group. Teleost (bony) fishes are similar to anurans in displaying numerous transitions toward uniparental contributions by each sex. Whereas cichlid fishes have often evolved from biparental care to female care, other teleosts have usually switched from no care to male care. Taxa that have evolved exclusive male care without courtship–role reversal are characterized by male territoriality and low costs of care per brood. Males may therefore benefit from care through female preference of parental ability in these species. Primates show a high frequency of transitions from female care to biparental care, reflecting the prevalence of female care in basal lineages. In the numerous taxa that display live bearing by females, including teleosts, elasmobranchs, squamate reptiles and invertebrates, we find that live bearing has always evolved from a lack of care. Although the transition counts and probabilities will undoubtedly be refined as phylogenetic information and methodologies improve, the overall biases in these taxa should help to place adaptive hypotheses for the evolution of care into a stronger setting for understanding directions of change.