Rights of Unmarried Fathers in Virginia
As an expectant unmarried father, you are probably nervous and have question as to how this situation is going to work. What do you need to do when the child is born? Do you have to take a DNA test? If you are definitely the father, when do you get to see your son or daughter and how much child support will you have to pay. These are all entirely fair questions to have when expecting a child with someone other than your wife or serious partner. An experienced Leesburg family law attorney at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC can answer all of these questions and more. We can guide you through the process of establishing paternity and making sure you regularly see your child.
Lack of Automatic Rights
Without being married to the child’s mother, there is no presumption under the law that you are the baby’s father. If you do not legally establish your parentage, you will lack rights in regard to the infant. Your name will not be on the birth certificate and you will not have the right to go to court to seek custody or visitation. Your child cannot also not benefit from you, such as being on your health insurance, receive veterans’ benefits, or inherit your assets when you pass away.
Establishing You Are the Father is Necessary
If you want to be active in your child’s life, you should establish parentage as soon as possible. You can do this in two ways: signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) or having a genetic test performed. An AOP is an entirely voluntary form that both you and the mother must sign in front of a witness. These are usually available at the hospital. However, it can be filled out later. If you are not 100 percent sure you are the father, you should have a genetic test performed. You can either pay for this test through a private lab or you can open a case with child services and have the test analyzed at a state lab.
Gaining Custody or Visitation Rights
Once you have established paternity and your name is on the birth certificate, you can seek legal and physical child custody or visitation rights. Many people believe courts favor mothers, but this is not true. Under Virginia law, there is no presumption that one parent should have more custody than another. The court looks at the best interests of the child. Depending on the situation you seek, you and your attorney may be able to obtain split custody or a significant amount of visitation. The court wants children to have solid relationships with both parents, so do not settle for less than what you want and deserve as a father.
However, courts can favor the primary caretaker of a child. For the first few years, this is usually the mother. This presumption can be overcome with the help of an experienced attorney. Additionally, if you seek custody quickly after the child’s birth, there may be little evidence to presume the mother is the primary caretaker and deserves a greater amount of time with the child due to this relationship.
Paying Child Support
Along with rights in regard to your child comes responsibilities. Once you are established as the legal father of the child, you may be required to pay child support. On the other hand, if you become the custodial parent or have the majority of time with your child, then the mother may be required to pay support to you. Child support in Virginia is based on both parent’s monthly gross income.
Registering as a Putative Father When Parentage is Not Established
If you believe you are the father of a child but have not legally established paternity and been named on the birth certificate, you should sign up for the Virginia Putative Father Registry. This will ensure you are notified of any adoption or termination of parent right proceedings.
Reach Out to Us for Help
If you are expecting a baby or have a child with someone you are not married to, contact the Leesburg family law attorneys of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC. We can explain the importance and process of establishing paternity and help you set up a custody or visitation schedule.