Establishing Paternity in Virginia
In the legal sense, establishing paternity means determining a child’s legal father and the obligations and rights that entails. This also means placing the father’s name on a birth certificate.
In order for a father to be legally responsible for a child, you must start by establishing paternity. It’s also the first step for a father who wants to request visitation rights. Not only are there are obvious emotional benefits for the child when you establish paternity, but it can also provide legal benefits. A child may have rights to medical and other insurance benefits, a right of inheritance, and other benefits like social security and/or veteran’s benefits.
Acknowledging Paternity Voluntarily
If both parents are in agreement, you can establish paternity voluntarily by having both parents sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form. It’s common practice to have this done right at the hospital before the mother and baby are discharged. The form must be signed under oath, and it’s a free service offered by birthing hospitals in Virginia. The father must have legal photo identification before he is allowed to sign the form.
In the event you cannot fill it out at the hospital, you can request an AOP form from the Office of Vital Records in Richmond. Other options include social services departments, child support offices, and some local health clinics.
Establishing Paternity Through Genetics
Another option to establish paternity is through the use of genetic testing. Tests are done through the Court or the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE). All parties (mother, potential father, and child) will be scheduled for tests. When the Court or DCSE schedules the test, an authorized representative collects the genetic samples, which usually entails taking swabs of the inner facial cheek. Test results are typically provided within three to four weeks. If the Court or DCSE is requesting the test, and the man is found to be the father, he will be responsible for the cost of the test. If he is not the father and there is an open case, DCSE is responsible for the costs. When a court orders the test, the court will issue an order on who will pay for the test.
Parties can also opt for private testing from certified laboratories at their own expense, which will likely be more expensive.
Paternity versus Custody
It’s important to understand that there is a difference between establishing paternity and child custody. With parents who aren’t married, it’s common in Virginia that the child lives with one parent, often the mother, who therefore has defacto physical custody. Either parent can then request visitation and/or custody through the courts. Custody and Visitation matters are separate matters from child support issues and are treated separately by the Courts.
Retaining a Virginia Family Law Attorney
If you’ve had a child and need assistance with establishing paternity or initiating a custody or support case, you need the assistance of a knowledgeable Leesburg family law attorney. Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC focus on family law matters, and our attorneys have litigated hundreds of child custody and child support cases. Contact our office today at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled family law attorneys.