The paternity lawsuit seems a bit anachronistic in the early decades of the 21st century, but for some young mothers in Virginia, proving that a particular man is the biological father of her child can be the difference between living in poverty and having enough money to provide for the baby's and her basic welfare. Knowing the identity of the child's biological father can also help diagnose certain genetically transmitted diseases. Also, many studies have shown that young children benefit emotionally from knowing their father.
Paternity can be established in two basic ways. Both parents can acknowledge paternity voluntarily by signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity under oath. These forms are most commonly signed at the hospital after the mother gives birth. The forms can also be signed later in the presence of a notary public.
If the alleged father denies paternity, the mother or other interested person can file a petition to establish paternity. Virtually all paternity cases are decided by having the child and both parents submit samples of their DNA for laboratory testing. The samples are usually collected by swabbing saliva from the subject's mouth. Test results are usually available in two to three weeks. Genetic tests do not provide a clear "yes" or "no" answer. Instead, they state a probability that the man is the child's father. Under Virginia law, a result stating this probability to be greater than 98% is conclusive proof of paternity. Many DNA tests are now able to verify paternity as 99% probable. If the tests confirm that the alleged father is the biological father, the man pays for the tests. If the testing is ordered by the court, the judge decides who pays the test fees.
Issues such as custody, visitation and child support are separate proceedings that fall within the courts' exclusive jurisdiction. Anyone involved in a paternity dispute may wish to consult an experienced family lawyer for advice on the various proceedings.