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Co-parenting involves parents who are separated, divorced, or otherwise no longer in a relationship choosing to share the rights and responsibilities of a child. If parents were never married, co-parenting may be complicated, but is often in the best interests of the child. To effectively co-parent, it’s important for parents to know their rights and responsibilities regarding their child.

Establishing Parental Rights

While establishing parental rights for married parents is usually straightforward, establishing rights of unmarried parents is not as clear cut. For unmarried mothers in Virginia, there is a presumption at birth that the mother is the child’s parent. For unmarried fathers, there are no rights initially and the process can be more complicated. Before an unmarried father can claim any parental rights, he must establish paternity for the child. If the mother of the child agrees, the father can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (“AOP”) at the hospital.

This form must be completed and signed by both parties for the father’s name to appear on the child’s birth certificate. If the form is not completed at the hospital, it can be completed later and mailed in for a fee. If the AOP is completed, the individual is considered the legal father of the child.

If there is a dispute about who the father of the child is and the mother of the child will not agree to sign an AOP, the father can have a DNA test (“paternity test”) performed on himself and the child to determine whether or not he is the father of the child. This may require court action. The individual claiming paternity can file a Petition to Establish Paternity and request the court to order a DNA test. If the DNA test establishes paternity, the father can petition the court for child custody and visitation rights.

Child Custody and Visitation

Child Custody

In Virginia there are two types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody refers to where a child spends the majority of his or her time. Legal custody refers to the right to make important health, education, and welfare decisions for a child.

A parent may have sole custody of a child or share joint custody between both parents. With sole legal custody, one person retains responsibility for the care and control of a child and has primary authority to make decisions concerning the child. Sole physical custody means one the child resides with the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent may have visitation rights. Joint legal custody means both parents retain joint responsibility for the care and control of the child and joint authority to make decisions concerning the child. Joint physical custody means both parents share physical custody of the child, although not necessarily share equally. In Virginia, joint custody is awarded more commonly.

Visitation Rights

Visitation is the time that a non-custodial parent is entitled to have with a child. Virginia law favors arrangements, both custody and visitation, that allow both parents to be involved in the lives of their children. Visitation may be supervised or not supervised. Supervised visitation is more likely if the non-custodial parent has placed the child in a dangerous situation other acted otherwise inappropriately.

Custody and visitation matters can be settled through negotiation or mediation between the parties. However, if the parents are unable to agree, they may petition the court to decide these issues.

Child Support

Since Virginia law assumes the parent with primary custody is already supporting any children, the parent without primary custody is typically required to pay child support to the parent with primary custody. The Virginia Code sets out the guidelines used for determining child support obligations. The guidelines consider the number of children that need support and the parents’ combined monthly gross income, as well as custody arrangements.

  • Sole Custody – if one parent has sole custody of all children, the child support owed is based on the proportion of each parent’s income to the combined income.
  • Split Custody – if one child lives with one parent and the other child lives with the other parent, the support owed is the difference between the amounts owed by each parent as a noncustodial parent according to respective “sole custody” calculations.
  • Shared Custody – if parents share custody of a child, the support owed is based on the percentage of days per year the child is with each parent.

Child support is typically paid until a child turns 18 or is legally emancipated. However, if a child is 18, is still in high school, is not self-supporting, and lives with the custodial parent, that parent can seek child support. Under these circumstances, child support will end when the child turns 19 or graduates high school, whichever comes first. Courts may also extend child support payments after a child turns 18, if the child is severely and permanently mentally or physically disabled, is unable to live independently, and resides with the custodial parent.

Custody and visitation matters can be complex, particularly for unmarried fathers who are likely to face challenges in obtaining custody and visitation rights. Our family law attorneys are experienced in establishing paternity and are well versed in custody and visitation matters and can help you navigate the process and protect your rights. Call us today at 703-991-7973 and see how we can help you.

What Other Clients Have Said About Our Family Law Practice

Savior

Ms Johana Foard and her colleagues took over my Divorce case that had been lingering for over 2 years with no hope in sight!!! My other attorney took advantage of me being out of State, after thousands of dollars! Within 3 weeks Johana and her staff closed out my divorce even after opposing counsel was dragging her feet and not sending in the signed agreement that my ex- wife and I had agreed on. Johana took it upon herself to make sure it happened! I would definitely recommend Johana and staff! Thanks Johana!!!

Richard

Clear and compassionate

I consulted with Joanna regarding a dispute over some intricacies of a contract. She instantly understood my case and was wonderful at quickly explaining what breaches had occurred and what options I had moving forward. When I didn’t understand a finer point, she was happy to explain it until I did. Speaking with Joanna is a pleasure and I cannot recommend her highly enough for her kind and straightforward professionalism.

Samuel

Divorce completed in 8 weeks

Joanna was attentive to every detail of my case. She was available for my questions and returned my calls and emails promptly. Joanna’s attention to detail and compassionate heart made me know I was not just another file in her case-load. She is a compassionate attorney who goes above and beyond to make sure her clients feel cared for and know that she is taking care of them. She prepared me for court by running me through all the questions that would be asked, so I never felt off guard. Joanna made a very difficult situation as smooth and painless as possible.

Tamela

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Amazing attorney

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A.J.

The Personal Touch

After consulting with a few attorneys, I hired Joanna to work my case because she made me feel at ease. I couldn’t believe how responsive she was to every question and concern I had. She often proactively followed up just to see how I was doing if she hadn’t heard from me in a few days. She is thorough, informative, and personable. Just what I needed while going through one of the most difficult times of my life.

Anonymous

Highly recommended

Joanna Foard has been my family law attorney for the past several months, and I have felt so supported and attended to. She spent so much time with me on our initial consultation, and put me at ease and felt like a friend. My case has been very challenging and there has been so much uncertainty. I felt a relief just having her represent me. She got right to work without missing a beat and truly took my financial concerns into account. She has been honest and straightforward. She has not only been incredibly responsive, but she has shown she truly cares about my situation and wants to help bring resolve and peace. She responds to emails quickly, and if I call unexpectedly, she has either taken the call or returned the call in a timely manner. She is kind and supportive. She even sent a heartfelt sympathy card when I lost my grandmother. I don’t know any attorney who would take the time to do that. She is thorough and thinks out of the box. She is clear and concise, but that’s not to say she won’t take the time needed to ensure my questions are answered. Although she is not able to see my case through to the end due to her out-of-state move, she has never dropped the ball, and has only treated me with respect and consideration. I recommend her without reservation.

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Joanna assisted with navigating a difficult divorce agreement when emotions were running high. My original lawyer failed to move proceedings along at an appropriate pace, and I hired Joanna to pick up from where he left off, and from Day 1 Joanna was on the ball, holding the opposing party accountable for their actions, and ensuring a timely and suitable resolution to our case.

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Alex

A Genuine People Person who Happens to Practice Law

Joanna was by far the kindest and most considerate attorney I have hired. From our first encounter through the conclusion of our case, my wife and I had no doubt that our best interest was at the forefront of her mind. She and her team worked efficiently to make the best use of the fees we paid. Joanna also expertly explained Latin-based legal terminology to us in plain English, so that we knew exactly what was going on. The case was resolved to our satisfaction and I highly recommend her services. I will not hesitate to pick up the phone and contact Joanna again, should the need arise.

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Professional Problem Solver

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Shawn

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