In Virginia, if you are an unmarried father, you may have questions regarding your rights for visitation and custody. As an unmarried father, there are steps you can take to ensure that you gain custody or visitation rights to your child. Let the Custody Lawyers in Roanoke Virginia help you better understand these rights.
Virginia Laws for Unmarried Parents
|Virginia Code Statutes|
|· Establishing a Parent-Child Relationship under Section 20-49.1
· Minor Children Custody and Visitation Arrangements under Section 20-124.1
· Child Support under Section 20-88.63 through 20-88.95
· If you are unmarried, the father can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) before leaving the birthing center.
· When completing an AOP, this ensures that your name is placed on the child’s birth certificate.
· As a father, if you deny being the biological father, the mother can put together a Petition to Establish Paternity within the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
· As the alleged father, if you do not show up to court, the judge could enter a “Default Order” – this means that you would be legally acknowledged as the legal father.
· If both the mother and alleged father question paternity, either individual can order genetic testing for the child.
· In the case the genetic testing comes back as the alleged father is, in fact, the biological father, the court will establish legal paternity and place the father’s name on the birth certificate.
|Responsibilities and Rights for an Unmarried Father|
|· There is no assumption that you are legally the child’s father without following the steps to establish paternity. This cannot be done without a genetic test.
· Once the genetic test confirms paternity, the court will not favor either parent regarding custody. Instead, custody is determined upon the best interest of the child.
· Once paternity has been granted, you are legally responsible for providing child support.
· If not, legal paternity has been established, and you believe you are not the child’s father, you can then link up with the Virginia Putative Father Registry. This gives you the right to be contacted in the chance termination of parental rights or adoption occurs.
|Forms for Unmarried Parents in Family Law|
Custody and Visitation:
Virginia Paternity Establishment Program
The Putative Father Registry is for all fathers who are not married and who want to be notified if the mother files for adoption or tries to terminate parental rights. However, if you do not register, you could lose your rights as a father. You can register with the Putative Father Registry at www.dss.virginia.gov/family/ap/putative_fatherhood.
The reason this registry was created was to help fathers establish their paternity. The Putative Father Registry is statewide, and the Virginia Code Section 63.2-1914 requires all birthing centers both public and private, to provide all unmarried fathers with the chance to register before leaving the hospital.
Virginia has established a “Putative Father Registry” which is a statewide database. You can register online at www.dss.viginia.gov/family/ap/putative_fatherhood. Registration is required of all unwed fathers who wish to receive notice of adoption or termination of parental rights. If you do not register, your rights can be lost.
Until you have legally established your paternity, your rights as a father is minimal.
How Does Virginia Courts Determine Custody and Visitation?
When deciding upon visitation and custody rights, the courts in Virginia base these decisions upon the child’s best interest along with other factors that are put in place by the Virginia Code § 20-124.3, additionally, the Virginia Code § 20-124.2 places a clear constitutional preference of staying in contact with both parents and the child, and shared responsibility. Once the decision has been made, the court does not have to explain their reasoning, and all decisions should be relevant to those listed in the Virginia Code § 20-124.3. Even though the court is given the responsibility of deciding custody and visitation, the court is not obligated to consider the specific facts of the evidence provided. Instead, evidence at the trial will be used to base this decision.
Establishing a Parent-Child Relationship
When you have petitioned with the court and have been granted custody, both the mother and father must provide proof they are the parents to the child in question. Regarding Chapter 3.1, Section 20-49.1, the mother is established by showing she is, in fact, the one who gave birth to the child. However, for the father, the proof is determined by a paternity test or a written statement under oath from the father and mother stating the father is, in fact, the biological parent to the child.
Custody and Visitation Rights
When paternity has been granted, the father’s name has been placed on the birth certificate, you as the father has the right to petition for physical custody or visitation rights. Many unmarried fathers believe that the court will go in favor of the mother. However, this is not the case. Instead, under the Virginia law, there is no guarantee that the mother will be granted custody. The Virginia courts look at all aspects of the custody case and make their decision based on the best interest of the child. Depending on if you are seeking out custody or visitation, your attorney can request that you and the mother share custody or a substantial length of visitation.
There can be cases when the judge places their favor in the primary caretaker of the child. In most cases, this is the mother for the first few years. However, this can be overturned with experienced custody lawyers in Roanoke, Virginia. Also, if you fight for custody shortly after the child is born, there is a less chance for the mother to prove she is the primary caregiver, and this allows you to form a relationship with the child during this time.
At the end of the day, the judge wants what is best for the child and for the child to have a long-lasting relationship with both parents. If you believe that you can make a positive impact on your child’s life, never give up the fight to establish paternity and custody.