In Virginia establishing the legal father of a child is called establishing Paternity. By establishing paternity, the father’s name is officially placed on the child’s birth certificate and he is legally responsible for the child.

In Virginia, if a child is born of a marriage, then paternity is automatically established. When children are born out of wedlock, paternity can also be established voluntarily by both the parents signing under oath the Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) under oath. The easiest way to do it is to sign the AOP right after the child’s birth before mother and child are discharged from the hospital.

If your child is born out of wedlock and the mother refuses to sign the AOP, then you can get parental rights to the child by petitioning the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and performing a court ordered genetic test. This usually happens when there is a dispute regarding paternity and either mother or the father won’t agree to voluntarily establishing paternity  and the Court is asked to resolve the issue. The mother, the father, the child or the state if the child is receiving public assistance or benefits can petition the court to establish paternity in the county where the child resides.

If mother files a petition to establish paternity and after receiving appropriate notice of the court proceeding, the father doesn’t appear in court, the judge can enter a “default order” in his absence, declaring him the legal father. If the father appears in court and the mother and father both agree that the father is the biological father, the judge will immediately issue an order of paternity. If the father challenges paternity, then the Court usually issues and order for the father and child to submit to genetic testing to determine paternity.

Benefits of Establishing Paternity:

Establishing paternity means that the child will be not only be able to enjoy a relationship with both his parents, but will also be able to inherit from his father. Once paternity is established, fathers are legally responsible for the children just as much as the mother and so have to contribute towards supporting the children as well.

The biggest benefit to fathers is that once paternity is established, they have a legal right to the child, and can then petition the court for custody and visitation with their child. By getting a court order for custody and visitation rights to your child, you no longer have to rely on the mother to doll out visitation as she pleases. If the mother does not allow you to exercise the court ordered custodial/visitation time with your child, you can file a petition (Rule to Show Cause) to hold her in contempt of court for violation of the court order.