The State of Virginia does not make any distinctions between the legal rights of married and unmarried fathers, nor does it favor either paternal or maternal caretakers when it comes to matters of contention such as custody, visitation, and child support.
First and foremost, unmarried fathers are exempted from automatic rights, in accordance with the laws of Virginia, meaning it is paramount for an individual to establish legal paternity in order to attain any rights or responsibilities regarding a child. To do so, it is necessary for the father to either 1) establish biological paternity through a genetic test taken at an accredited state hospital, 2) establish adoptive responsibility through signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) – in the presence of a witness – or (as the Court describes) a ‘voluntary written statement of the father and the mother made under oath acknowledging paternity and confirming that prior to signing the acknowledgment, the parties were provided with a written and oral description of the rights and responsibilities of acknowledging paternity and the consequences arising from a signed acknowledgment, including the right to rescind.’
Once paternity is established, a father is entitled to all parental rights and responsibilities, equal to those of a married father of similar status as per the laws in Virginia. This establishment serves as a declaration to the Department of Social Services claiming that you are the child’s legal father, entitling you to recognition by the Court and other state agencies.
Strictly speaking, the Court will offer no unjust favor nor presume custody to neither maternal nor paternal parent, although it may incline towards the primary caregiver – especially when it comes to matters relating to child custody, visitations, and child support. It must be noted that the status of primary caregiver generally holds little value if the pursuit of paternal rights occurs within the child’s early years. Visitations must be negotiated within a Court, and a decision will be pursued in order to meet the child’s best interests as to secure financial, emotional, and familial stability and welfare. Child support is calculated as a percentage of the total gross income of both parents, meaning an equal share of financial responsibility is allotted to either parent. If the father wins custody over the child, the mother will contribute child support equivalent to that of the unmarried father hadn’t he been granted custody.
For an unmarried father in Virginia, whether upholding custody or not, can only maintain paternal claim through the consistent demonstration of healthy involvement throughout the child’s life. This involvement must be proved through accurate, continuous records.
In certain cases where paternity is not established, the Court can still grant the individual putative paternity through the Virginia Putative Father Registry. This will automatically inform the individual of any changes in the child’s adoptive status, or any termination of parental responsibility.
Fathers’ Rights and Paternity
Virginia bows to federal law and upholds the rights of Virginia’s unmarried fathers in child custody, parentage, visitation and child support.
The Virginia Department of Social Services notes that establishing paternity builds self-esteem in children, establishes family identity, encourages shared parenting and helps determine health history. Declaring paternity also provides a legal relationship between the father and a child in court. This helps the court determine custody awards and visitation rights. Declaring paternity also provides legal protection and opportunities for children, including coverage by any medical insurance held by the father or potential benefits from the father’s Social Security or veteran’s benefits. Virginia recognizes putative fatherhood, a term used to describe unmarried, biological fathers and fathers in a child-parent relationship without any legal adoptive recognition. Virginia sponsors an online state putative father registry to provide fathers with notifications of court actions involving a child listed on the registry. The notifications allow fathers to attend custody and adoption hearings involving biological children.
Any man who has engaged in sexual intercourse with a woman is deemed to be on legal notice that a child may be conceived and the man is entitled to all legal rights and obligations resulting therefrom.
The father and child relationship between a child and a man may be established by:
Scientifically reliable genetic tests, including blood tests, that affirm at least a 98-percent probability of paternity. Although genetic testing is relied on almost solely now, other evidence to establish paternity still remains in the statute.
Child Support, Financial & Emotional
You can and should provide financial and emotional support to your child. You need to provide an unassailable track record of being involved in your child’s life, providing basic needs, and helping to raise your child. With that established, you are entitled to petition a court for custody of, or visitation with, your child.
Custody and Visitation Rights for Unmarried Fathers
The best way for an unmarried couple not living together anymore can reach an arrangement or an agreement on visitation and custody of the child is with a parenting plan. This plan is usually drawn up by the aid of attorneys representing both the mother and the father.
If you and the mother of the child are unable to reach a custody and visitation agreement, then you must file your case to the court and demand child custody the same a divorced (once married) father would.
Though you are unmarried, your rights are equal to married but divorced Virginia fathers and you should not settle for any less. This also means you have to work as hard as they do to gain child custody, proving to the court that you are a suitable and fit parent to the child. As for visitation rights, you have to follow the same requirements.
Virginia is very fair to unmarried fathers and does not take away any rights from them as ‘fathers’. You must work hard to maintain the relationship and bond you have with your children as their unmarried father even if you do not gain child custody. You will also need the assistance of a good custody and visitation lawyer to support your case.