Fathers Rights in Virginia
Fathers Rights in Virginia starts with establishing paternity.

Parents play a very important role in their children’s lives. From the time children are born, parents are responsible for caring for and supporting their children, ensuring they have what they need to become functioning adults. Since this care and support is so important to a child’s development, states like Virginia have put laws into place to help protect the parent/child relationship and ensure children receive the care and support they need. When issues arise involving these situations, they are generally resolved in the Virginia family court system.

Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life

We most often regard the mother as the most important person in a child’s life. Mothers have traditionally been tasked with raising and caring for children while fathers worked to financially support the family. Because of this family structure, mothers have had preference in the family court system when it comes to the issues of child custody and child support. However, there has been a shift in this standard as more and more fathers are staying home to care for children while the mothers go out into the workforce to financially support the family.

In addition to family structures changing, we are also seeing an increased emphasis placed on the idea of fathers being equal to their female counterparts when it comes to raising and caring for children, which is changing how child custody and support cases are handled. Additionally, there has been a spotlight placed on the important role a father plays in his child’s life, specifically in the child’s development. Studies have suggested that fathers are an integral part of how their child develops language, and they have also suggested a link between an involved father and how a child develops academically and socially.

Voluntarily and Involuntarily Establishing Paternity in Virginia

The word “paternity” means “fatherhood,” and “establishing paternity” means a child’s legal father has been determined, and the rights and responsibilities of parenting have been assigned. When a married couple has a child, it is assumed the mother’s husband is the child’s legal and biological father – in this case, the parents do not need to take any additional steps to establish paternity. However, when an unmarried couple has a child, they need to take additional steps to establish paternity. In the state of Virginia, there is a voluntary and involuntary process for establishing paternity.

When the father and mother agree that the father is indeed the child’s biological father, they can use a voluntary process to establish paternity. To complete this process, they both need to sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity” form. These forms are available at the medical facility, hospital, or birthing center where the child is born, and the staff at these facilities are trained to assist parents in completing them. The form can also be obtained from the Office of Vital Records for the state of Virginia after the child is born.

The Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form needs to be filled out and signed by both the father and mother in the presence of a notary public. Once complete, the form needs to be sent to and filed with the Office of Vital Records. Once the form has been processed, the father’s name can be legally added to the child’s birth certificate. This process is straightforward and simple to complete, but when one party involved is disputing or denying paternity, the parents need to use the involuntary process to establish paternity, which is decidedly more complicated to complete.

The involuntary process of establishing paternity is used when the parties are not in agreement and includes one party filing a “Petition to Establish Paternity” with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. The child’s mother, the alleged father, the child him or herself, or an agent of the state can file this petition – state agencies get involved in paternity cases if the child is receiving public assistance. If the alleged father declines to appear in court after receiving notice of the case, the judge enters what is called a “default order” in which that individual is named the child’s legal father.

Order of Paternity in Virginia

If the alleged father does appear in court, but paternity is still disputed by one of the parties involved, the court generally moves to order a genetic or DNA test to establish the child’s biological father. For this test, the mother, alleged father, and child have the inside of their cheek swabbed to collect a DNA sample. This sample is then tested to determine if the alleged father is the child’s biological father. If this is determined to be true, the court issues an “order of paternity,” at which time the child’s biological father is named the child’s legal father, and his name is added to the birth certificate.

Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation

Once the child’s paternity has been established, a judge can move to make other determinations regarding the child and his or her parents including custody and support. While making these decisions, the court is guided by the “best interests of the child” standard, which instructs it to make custody and support decisions based on what is in the child’s best interests instead of either parent’s desires. Generally, having both the father and mother equally involved in the child’s life is in his or her best interests, so the judge works to establish a joint Virginia child custody agreement.

In cases where a joint custody arrangement is not possible, the court then works to name a primary custodian for the child, or which parent has the child most of the time. When evaluating the child’s parents, the judge does not prefer one parent over the other based on gender – meaning that fathers have an equal right to gain primary custody of the child as mothers do. In cases where fathers are ultimately named the child’s primary custodian, they also have the right to petition the court for child support.

Child support is a financial payment made from the non-custodial parent to the primary custodial parent. This financial payment is meant to help cover the costs of raising the child, which can include paying for expenses, such as shelter, food, clothing, education, medical care, and other vital expenses. Should the mother not pay her ordered child support, fathers have a right to work with the court to have those child support payments enforced. Fathers can seek assistance from the Department of Social Services for the state of Virginia, specifically from the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE).

How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help

Issues like paternity or child support can be overwhelming, especially for fathers, who are sometimes unaware of their rights as a parent. Regardless of the situation fathers find themselves in, it is always in their best interest to seek the legal help of a father’s right attorney. These legal professionals can explain their client’s parental rights and help to ensure that those rights are honored and upheld during court cases

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