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How does establishing paternity affect custody in Virginia?

In the state of Virginia, a married woman's husband is assumed to be the father of her child and paternity is only an issue if the father is known to be someone else. In these cases, the biological father will have to go through the courts to get paternity established. Fathers of children born to unmarried mothers may also wish to have paternity legally established, but there are many misconceptions about what happens after the man is legally recognized as the biological father.

In Virginia, establishing paternity does not automatically mean that the father has partial custody of the child or even visitation rights. While the establishment of paternity does not directly affect custody or visitation, it is the first step for fathers who are not married to their children's mothers to begin the court process. Once paternity is legally established, the father will then be able to file a petition with the courts to be granted custody of the child or to establish visitation rights.

It's important to remember that custody and visitation are always determined according to what the court believes is in the best interests of the child, so just because a man is found to be the biological father of the child does not mean that the courts will grant the father's petition.

As long as the mother is in agreement, the father is free to have visits with the child without any kind of formal court order. However, if something happens at a later date, and the mother refuses visitation, the father will then have to go to court. Some fathers prefer to get the custody and visitation set up officially through the courts as soon as possible to eliminate this possibility and ensure they have legal recourse if the mother withdraws visitation.

Source: Virginia Department of Social Services Division of Child Support Enforcement, "Facts about establishing paternity," accessed March. 26, 2015

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