When a couple, whether married or unmarried has children, they have certain rights of parenthood. When that same couple splits up, they must legally determine the care and custody of their child or children.
Let’s learn more about child custody laws for unmarried parents in Virginia.
What is a Child Custody Order?
A child custody order is a judgment, decree or order given by the court that provides for the legal and physical custody of a child, and visitation rights.
Even for unmarried parents, a child custody order will ensure certain legal rights including: the right to make decisions about your child, and the right to have physical custody of your child (to have you child live with you.)
According to WomensLaw.org,
“without a custody order, it is possible that you may not have these legal rights, even if you are the parents who takes care of the child every day.”
Are There Special Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents?
In most states, under its child custody laws for unmarried parents, custody automatically defers to the mother unless the father takes action to be awarded custody.
In Virginia, when it comes to the determination of child custody for unmarried parents, the best interests of the child are most important. Virginia, however, favors the primary caretaker, which is often the mother. You will need to speak with your attorney to arrange joint custody and/or visitation rights, which is best done closely following the child’s birth.
In addition, according to FindLaw,
“An unwed father often cannot win custody over a mother who is a good parent, but he will usually take priority over other relatives, foster parents, or prospective adoptive parents.”
Proof of Paternity is Required
An unwed father must legally prove that he is the baby’s father since it is not presumed that he actually is. Without proof of parentage, the father’s name will not appear on the baby’s birth certificate; nor will the father have the right to seek custody or visitation.
Conversely, without proof of parentage, the child cannot benefit from the father’s insurance, veteran’s benefits or inheritance rights.
There are two ways to prove parentage: with a genetic test, like a DNA test, and through an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) statement, a voluntary form that the father and mother must sign in front of a witness. These forms are available at the hospital.
Virginia Putative Father Registry
If you have not formally established paternity, and your name is not on the birth certificate, but believe that you are the father of a child, you can register under the Virginia Putative Father Registry within 10 days of the child’s birth.
This enables a father to be notified in the event his child is placed for adoption, and aid in protecting paternal rights.
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