This is the next post in the series on the rights of unwed parents in Virginia. The last article provided an overview of topics we will be discussing and stressing the need to contact an attorney if you find yourself involved in a child custody dispute. It is important that you contact counsel immediately; one who tries to deal with the situation themselves, as opposed to going through the legal system, will often create additional issues which will have to be explained to the judge. In this article I will address a topic which often creates confusion amongst parents – the rights of unmarried Virginia fathers and the need to establish paternity if you have not already done so.
Virginia fathers have no rights or obligations until paternity of the child has been established
Virginia is like most other states in that it does not recognize the rights or obligations of a father until paternity has been established. For many unmarried parents this is not an issue; the Commonwealth allows parents the opportunity to declare parentage at the hospital when the child is born. Many parents, however, do not take this opportunity to have the father sign an “Acknowledgement of Paternity.” This means that, in the eyes of the law, the child only has one parent until a court order is entered which declares the biological father’s paternity. A number of issues are impacted as a result of not establishing parentage immediately.
Fathers will have no rights or obligations in regards to a child unless paternity has been established. First, this means that the dad will have no right to visitation, custody, or to have input in regards to decisions which impact the child. This is due to the fact that, without parentage first being determined, the law does not consider the biological father to be the “dad” of the child. Second, an unestablished father also has no obligations to pay child support, medical bills related to the child, or other expenses. These issues often lead to disputes between parents. A dad will wish to enforce rights which he does not have and a mother will demand that the father fulfill obligations which he does not have. If you find yourself involved in such a situation then it is best to contact a lawyer.
Virginia courts can quickly establish paternity through DNA testing
The next article will explain the process of going to court to establish paternity, custody, etc. It is important to recognize that the issue of parentage can be quickly resolved. Once a Petition to Establish Paternity is filed a hearing can be scheduled at which the court will order DNA testing. If the test establishes paternity of the putative father then his rights and obligations will then be established. Depending on the circumstances it may be possible to have the initial hearing expedited so that things can get moving sooner rather than later. Do not make the mistake of arguing back and forth or trying to take things into your own hands. It is best to go through the legal system.