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Protection for Unmarried Parents in Virginia

Marriage is not a prerequisite to having children, of course. But while the familial relationships within wedlock are typically quite clear, this is not always the case with unmarried parents. The mother's spouse is presumed to be the child's father (assuming the child was born during the marriage), but unmarried fathers must either voluntarily declare their paternity or, if disputed, submit to a DNA test.

The custodial parent may seek child support and the noncustodial parent may seek custody and visitation only after parentage is established.

The laws that outline the responsibilities of, and protections for, unmarried parents in Virginia include provisions for establishing parentage (i.e. paternity), child custody and visitation, and payment of child support. The following is a summary of these laws and procedures.

Protection for Unmarried Parents in Virginia: The Basics

It helps to know as much as possible about a particular legal process, whether it's paternity or child support, before embarking on such an action. However, the law is complex and often confusing. The following summary of Virginia laws pertaining to unmarried parents, written in "plain English," will help you make sense of the state's rules and procedures.


Virginia Code:

  • Section 20-49.1, et seq. (Establishment of Parent and Child Relationship)
  • Section 20-124.1, et seq. (Custody and Visitation Arrangements for Minor Children)
  • Section 20-88.63 through 20-88.95 (Child Support)

Establishing Paternity


Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity:

  • Unmarried parents (typically the father) may sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form prior to leaving the hospital or birthing center.
  • By filing an AOP, your name is added to the child's birth certificate.

Contested Paternity:

  • If the suspected father denies parentage, the mother may file a Petition to Establish Paternity in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court where the child lives.
  • If putative father fails to appear in court or respond to the petition, the judge may enter a "default order" declaring him the legal father.
  • If paternity is disputed, either parent may request an order to compel genetic testing.
  • If the DNA test confirms the putative father's parentage, the court will establish legal parentage and add the father's name to the child's birth certificate.

Rights and Responsibilities of Unmarried Fathers

  • There is no presumption that you're the child's father without establishment of parentage (must either voluntarily acknowledge paternity or take a genetic test).
  • Once paternity is established, the courts won't favor one parent over the other in custody determinations (instead, it's based on the child's best interests) -- however, courts often favor the child's primary caregiver.
  • Once established as the parent, you may be required to pay child support.
  • If you believe you're father but haven't legally established paternity, you may sign up with the Virginia Putative Father Registry. This will allow you to be notified of any adoption or termination of parental rights proceedings.

Family Law Forms for Unmarried Parents


Child Support:

Child Custody/Visitation:

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Protection for Unmarried Parents in Virginia: Related Resources

Are You an Unmarried Virginia Parent? Get Legal Help Today

There are certain legal responsibilities and protections for unmarried parents in Virginia, such as rules for establishing parentage and child support obligations. If you need help locating a noncustodial parent or have other concerns as an unmarried parent, you may want to contact an experienced Virginia family law attorney for help.

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