Paternity 101: The Basics of Paternity Under Virginia Law


A father has a legal obligation to support their child, and is entitled to ask a court for custody and/or visitation of their child. However, in order to do so, paternity must be legally established.

Not only is establishing paternity important to fostering a father-child relationship, it is critical if you want your child to inherit from you, share in social security and other government benefits that you may receive, or obtain health and medical benefits under your plan(s). Paternity will also be helpful in determining your child’s family members’ medical histories, which can be important in predicting and preventing diseases.

Establishing Paternity in VA

A formal establishment of the father-child relationship can be achieved in many ways in Virginia, but it is important to note that simply because you are a child’s biological father does not necessarily mean you are that child’s legal father and entitled to the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood.

So, how is paternity legally established?

In Virginia, paternity can be established in four ways: by marriage at least 10 months before the birth of the child (presumption of paternity); by genetic/DNA testing; by voluntary acknowledgement of paternity by both parents; or by lawful adoption of the child.

  • Presumption of Paternity – Under Virginia law, and subject to proper timing, marriage provides a presumption of paternity. If you were married to the mother of a child at least 10 months prior to that child’s birth, the law presumes that you are the child’s father.
  • Genetic/DNA Testing – Paternity can also be established by scientifically reliable genetic testing (DNA testing) that shows a 98% chance or greater that you are the father.
  • Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity – You and the mother of your child can sign a voluntary acknowledgment, made under oath, recognizing you as the child’s father. However, first you must receive a written and oral description of the rights, responsibilities and consequences of acknowledging paternity – including the right to rescind your acknowledgment for up to 60 days.
  • Paternity by Adoption – Paternity can be established through proof of a lawful adoption.

Putative Father Registry

Sometimes, you may believe you are the father of a child born to a woman you did not marry. Maybe the court has not yet determined the paternity of the child, but you would like to receive notifications regarding any future court proceedings involving the child. In such a case, you can join the putative father registry.

A putative father is a man who was not married to the child’s mother prior to or after the child’s birth, has not otherwise established or acknowledged paternity as described above, but may be the biological father of the child. By joining the putative father registry, you will be notified of any court proceedings related to termination of parental rights or adoption of the child. The putative father registry is confidential.

However, registering as a putative father does not establish your paternity in any way. It is just a helpful tool in case a child’s paternity (or lack thereof) becomes an issue in the future.

Establishing paternity can be more complicated than you think, and there are specific court procedures that must be followed regardless of which of the above methods you use. You may not be sure which option to choose when attempting to establish paternity. Under these circumstances, you should consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney.

The qualified team of family law attorneys at DiPietro Family Law Group have years of experience representing both fathers and mothers in paternity, custody, visitation, child support and other family law matters. Contact one of our family law attorneys today to schedule a consultation with a caring professional at (888) 530-4374.

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