Virginia law grants certain rights and responsibilities to parents of minor children, regardless of whether they were married at the time the child was born. However, issues like custody, visitation, and support are more complicated when they arise separately from divorce proceedings. Essentially, there can be an additional step – Proceedings to Determine Parentage, i.e., paternity – that mothers and fathers may need to go through before a court can make determinations on issues regarding minor children.
A Virginia family law attorney can provide important legal information and guide you through the process, but an overview of the three methods for establishing paternity may be helpful.
Rebuttable Presumption for Married Couples:
When the parents are married for at least 10 months prior to the child’s birth, there is a legal presumption that the husband is the father. Therefore, in a sense, this isn’t a method for establishing paternity because it’s already legally determined. Still, the issue may only come up when someone contests the circumstances of birth – such as allegations that the husband is NOT the father. A person can present evidence in rebuttal, thereby contradicting the legal presumption.
Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity:
Unmarried parents can establish parentage by executing a written statement which legally recognizes the father as such. Some important points to note on the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) include:
- The parties sign the VAP under oath, which means there can be serious consequences, such as perjury, for making false statements;
- The parents must acknowledge that they were given a description of their rights and responsibilities, both orally and in writing;
- There is a right to rescind within 60 days, under certain circumstances.
Once properly executed, the VAP is conclusive as to the paternity of the child’s father.
Court Hearing to Establish Parentage:
It’s also possible to prove paternity through a petition to initiate a paternity case, which is a court hearing that typically involves DNA testing. Any party with standing can file such a petition, including:
- The child’s mother, often where she wants to establish paternity to get child support from an estranged father who denies paternity;
- The child’s father, when he wants to exercise rights to custody and visitation if the mother denies paternity;
- The child, where doing so would enable him or her to certain monetary benefits; and,
- Anyone who has legal custody of the child.
In addition, certain state agencies have standing to file a paternity action in some situations. For instance, some mothers must rely on social services for financial support when they’re not receiving child support. Until parentage is legally established, the father may have no obligation to pay child support. A state agency may file a paternity action to resolve the issue, usually in an effort to get repayment for the amounts paid to the single mother.
Talk to a Virginia Family Law Attorney About Paternity Cases
If you have questions or want to know more about establishing paternity in Virginia, please contact Duff & Kronfeld, P.C. to set up a consultation with a lawyer. We serve clients in Fairfax and Northern Virginia in a wide range of family law matters, so we’ve got the experience and knowledge to provide solid legal advice in your case.