Unmarried Parental Rights in VA

What Are the Parental Rights of Unmarried Parents in Virginia?

The parental rights of unmarried parents in Virginia are governed by state laws that seek to protect the best interests of the child. Unmarried parents often worry that their rights to their children are limited simply by virtue of their unmarried status, but understanding your rights and obligations can help you plan for the future effectively and assert your rights as a parent.

If you’re an unmarried parent and you’re worried about losing rights to your little one, the team at Olmstead & Olmstead is here to help. Call us at 703-260-8752 to schedule a consultation now.

Establishing Parental Rights

In Virginia, parental rights for unmarried parents can be established through various legal avenues. It’s important to note that there is no presumption of paternity for unmarried fathers, which means they have no rights until they seek to establish those rights legally. If the mother agrees, the father can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity when the child is born. This allows them to become the legal father without having to go through a paternity test.

If both parties do not agree on signing the AOP, a paternity test may be necessary. The court can order a paternity DNA test on both the father and the child to verify the child’s paternity. When the test proves paternity, the father can then assert his rights to the child.

Parental Rights Prior to Birth

One question that often comes up is a father’s right to a child before the child is born. Prior to birth, a father does not have legal rights to a baby. They can, however, seek to establish those rights as quickly as possible after birth. This is often a challenge if the mother says she is going to put the child up for adoption. That’s why there’s a Virginia Birth Father Registry. A potential father can fill out the Virginia Birth Father Registry Registration Form by providing their information, the mother’s information, and any information they have about the child. If the child is placed for adoption or goes into the foster care system, the father will be notified.

Rights Regarding Visitation and Custody

Unmarried parents in Virginia have the right to seek custody and visitation arrangements that are in the best interests of their child. It’s commonly assumed that the courts favor the mother, but Virginia courts do not automatically presume that one parent is better equipped than the other once paternity has been established. 

Unmarried parents can seek legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody is often shared, as this is the preference in Virginia courts. Even if physical custody lies with one parent, the other parent may be able to retain shared legal custody. This allows them to be involved in the child’s education, medical care, and religious upbringing.

If one parent has primary physical custody, the other can petition the court for visitation rights. The court generally awards unsupervised visitation unless there’s a reason to believe that the non-custodial parent is a danger to the child.

Child Support Obligations in Virginia

Whether or not parents are married, they have an obligation to provide for their children. Virginia has set child support guidelines, but parents are free to negotiate a child support order that falls outside these guidelines. Furthermore, the court may order payments that fall outside these guidelines if there are extenuating circumstances.

The child support guidelines account for both parties’ income, spousal support payments, child support paid to other parties, the number of children shared by the parents, who pay for the child’s health insurance, and how much each parent combines into the total income.

It’s important to note that child custody and child support are two separate issues. Child support does not entitle a dangerous or unengaged parent to be part of their child’s life, but unpaid child support also does not entitle a custodial parent to keep their child from the non-paying parent. Unmarried parents should avoid using child support to manipulate custody and vice versa.

Protect Your Parental Rights with Olmstead & Olmstead

You have rights as a Virginia parent, and the team at Olmstead & Olmstead is here to help you protect them. Set up a consultation to discuss your concerns today. Just reach out online or call us at 703-260-8752 to get started.

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