In matters of determining paternity—or ruling out paternity—hard facts are far superior to hysteria. Though paternity is an emotionally charged issue, the safety and well-being of a child is at stake. Thanks to the Code of Virginia and other state institutions, establishing or disestablishing paternity can follow a clear, legal path. Consider these five hard facts.

Facts for the Child

Virginia’s Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) points out that establishing paternity—legally identifying the father of a child in Virginia—brings security to the child:

  • Self-esteem—Having two parents is important for any child; the child gets a sense of belonging and self-worth from having an identified mother and father
  • Family identity—Knowing the father’s side of the family, and promoting the kinships of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, gives a child a sense of place and heritage
  • Shared parenting—Parenting is the responsibility of the mother and the father; establishing paternity brings the father into the picture and can enrich the child’s life
  • Health history—By establishing paternity, the father and mother can provide a complete medical history, especially regarding genetic traits for medical conditions or disease

Facts For (and Against) the Father

Establishing paternity—clearly and legally identifying one man as a child’s father—provides a legal relationship between father and child. Says the DCSE:

  • Establishing paternity is required for the father to be legally responsible for child support.
  • Establishing paternity is a necessary first step if the father requests visitation rights.
  • Establishing paternity may provide legal benefits for the child, such as a share of social security, disability or veteran’s benefits if the father dies or becomes disabled; rights to any inheritance from the father; and rights to medical or insurance benefits.

For some men, knowing they are a child’s father is a relief, and gives them legal rights to be part of the child’s upbringing. The father can fight through his attorney for his legal rights, including physical and legal custody, and visitation.

Facts for the Man Who is Not the Father

As much protection as establishing paternity provides for both child and father, making clear that no paternal relationship exists is important, too. A man falsely accused of fathering a child must legally prove he is not the child’s father. Otherwise he may have to assume all the legal and financial responsibilities outlined above.

Establishing paternity in Virginia can be done in two ways, which means the man attempting to disprove paternity has to overcome these two hurdles:

  1. Voluntary acknowledge—Both parents have to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form under oath, either at the hospital or at the Office of Vital Records and other municipal locations
  2. Genetic Testing—A swab of the man’s inner cheek cells is taken and tested to compare it with cells from the child

AOP forms and witnessing are free services at Virginia birthing hospitals. The father assuming paternity presents a photo ID and signs the form. The father enjoys immediate legal rights, including having his name appear on the birth certificate.

Genetic testing can be scheduled either by the court or DCSE. Genetic samples are taken by swapping the man’s inner facial cheek, a quick and painless process. Results come back in around a month.

If the tested man turns out to be the child’s father, he pays for the tests; if the man is shown not to be the father, DCSE pays for the tests in most cases. If a court ordered the tests, the court determines who pays for genetic testing.

Virginia law requires a genetic paternity test to be 98 percent (or more) accurate to establish paternity.

Facts For (and Against) the Mother

Finding out a child’s true father can be a mixed blessing for the child’s mother. In most cases, the legal bond established by paternity is a good thing; the mother can get child support, if nothing else.

If the mother is married to someone else, though, Virginia law assumes the wife’s husband to be the child’s father. The only exception to this is if she was married to someone else up to 10 months before the child’s birth, in which case the court can establish paternity, usually by requiring the genetic test.

Facts in the Law

The Code of Virginia addresses paternity (establishing and disproving it) in several places. If you are concerned about the process, consider these legal citations:

If you need help sorting out a paternity issue in Virginia, turn to The Firm For Men. Call our offices at 757-383-9184. We can put you in touch with one of experienced child custody and paternity attorneys and help you through the emotional and legal turmoil. The Firm For Men has been proudly serving the men of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, and Hampton for over a decade!

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