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The Basics of Paternity in Virginia

PaternityPaternity is a father’s assumption of legal rights and responsibilities to a child. An established legal father of a child has a duty and obligation to support that child, as well as the right to petition the court for custody or visitation of the child. Such rights and responsibilities do not apply and cannot be exercised unless and until paternity is established.

In addition to the emotional and quality of life benefits that building the father-child relationship can have for both parties, establishing paternity also entitles the child to other possible benefits, including the right to inherit, the right to share in social security, the right to collect disability and veteran’s benefits if applicable, and the right to receive insurance and medical health benefits. Establishment of paternity is also valuable to the child because knowing the mental and physical health history of one’s family can be helpful for preventive disease purposes.

Establishing Paternity in Virginia

The mother-child relationship is established prima facie by her giving birth to the child. The father-child relationship, on the other hand, can be established in multiple ways in Virginia.

First, marriage creates a presumption of paternity under Virginia law. In the event husband and wife were married the ten months preceding the birth of the child, the husband is the presumptive legal father of the child.

Second, and in general, paternity can be established by either (a) scientifically reliable genetic tests affirming at least a 98% probability of paternity, (b) a voluntary written statement of the father and mother made under oath acknowledging paternity and confirming that prior to signing the acknowledgment, the parties were provided with a written and oral description of the rights and responsibilities of acknowledging paternity and the consequences arising from a signed acknowledgment, including the potential right to rescind within 60 days, or by (c) proof of lawful adoption.

It should be further noted that, when it comes to paternity, only one man can possess and assume the rights and responsibilities to a child. In other words, a child can only have one father under Virginia law. Also, the child’s biological father is not necessarily the child’s legal father; the question of paternity often goes beyond biology.

Putative Father Registry

Do you think you may be the father of a child born to a woman with whom you are not married? Has a court not yet determined that you are the child’s father? Knowing that the child may be your child, do you wish to receive notice of any future court proceedings regarding that child?

Many states, including Virginia, have what is called a putative father registry. A putative father is a man whose paternity has not been established or acknowledged, who was not married to the child’s mother prior to or subsequent to the child’s birth, who has not legally adopted the child, and who may be the child’s biological father. The registry is confidential and is meant to notify putative fathers in the event court proceedings for adoption or termination of paternal rights are ever commenced.

Registering yourself does not automatically establish paternity and/or your parental rights to the child; it merely assists you in establishing paternity if such becomes an issue later. For more information, visit the Virginia Putative Father Registry page of the Virginia Department of Social Services website.


Paternity can be a very complicated issue, especially if multiple potential fathers are involved. To learn more about paternity in Virginia, including your possible rights and responsibilities to a child in the event paternity is established, how best to establish paternity, and/or how to challenge paternity, consult with an experienced family law attorney.

The attorneys at Livesay & Myers, P.C. represent fathers and mothers in paternity, custody, support and other family law cases across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers in AshburnFairfaxFredericksburg or Manassas today.

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