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Custody and visitation rights of unmarried fathers in Virginia

When a child's parents do not reside together, both parents usually want to ensure that their child's best interests are protected. In order to make this situation easier for the child, family court makes both parents take equal responsibility in raising the child. Current conventional wisdom shows that parenting by both parents is usually in the best interest of the child.

Both biological parents have equal legal rights to raise their children, even if the parents are not married. A biological father of a child can seek custody and visitation rights even if he was not married to the child's mother when the child was born.

Unmarried fathers must establish paternity to claim full paternal rights. The father can establish paternity by filing an "acknowledgement of paternity" form with the appropriate state authority, either when the child is born or any time after. If paternity is disputed, the court might order a DNA test to establish paternity.

Custody and visitation issues can be resolved between the parents through a parenting agreement. A parenting agreement specifies which parent will have primary child custody and how important decisions regarding the upbringing of the child will be shared between the parents. If parents agree on a parenting plan, they can request the court incorporate the agreement into the court's order for custody and visitation rights.

If parents fail to agree on a parenting plan, then one parent can apply to the court to grant a hearing on the issue, so the court can decide custody and visitation rights. In some cases, a father may not be granted sole custody of the child unless he can prove that the mother is unfit to raise the child or he has been the primary caregiver. However, shared custody and visitation rights can provide a father with equal access to his child and the opportunity to make important decisions about the child's future.

Source: FindLaw, "Child Visitation, Child Custody and Unmarried Fathers," Accessed June 4, 2015

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