Most residents of northern Virginia know that paternity means the legal relationship between a child’s biological father and a child. However, this relationship cannot be established as easily as the obvious relationship between a mother and her child. A man can admit to being the father of a newborn child born by an unmarried woman by signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. If the parents are not married, signing this form is an easy way for the father to establish the child’s last name and to ensure that this is the name entered on the birth certificate. Most birthing hospitals have the form available, but if the form is not available, it can be obtained and signed at the Office of Vital Records in Richmond, at a local health department clinic or at local departments of the social services and child support offices.
Most mothers want to establish the paternity of their child so they can obtain child support, and most fathers want to establish paternity so they can establish visitation rights. If the father does not admit paternity, a court proceeding is usually necessary to answer the question of paternity. Also, if the mother was married to someone other than the putative father at the time of birth, a court proceeding will be necessary to establish paternity.
The court will almost always order the parents and the child to submit to genetic testing. The collection and testing of the tissue samples is usually handled by a laboratory contracted by the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement Services. If a court proceeding is underway, the results of the tests will be entered as evidence. If the test shows a 98% or higher likelihood that the man is the father, the test is legally presumed to have established paternity. If the likelihood is less than 98%, other factors will be examined. The tested man is responsible for paying the costs of the tests.