When a child is born to unmarried parents in Virginia, if the mother wishes to seek child support or the father wishes to seek custody or visitation rights, paternity must be established to prove the man is the child's biological father. One way they can do this is to sign a document known as a "Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity" (AOP) at the hospital.
An AOP is free, and makes it so that the father's name can be included on the child's birth certificate. If the father is a minor, he does not need permission from his parents to sign an AOP. Moreover, an AOP is an option even if the father is not a U.S. citizen. Executing an AOP will not impact any government benefits either party might be receiving.
Usually when a child is born to parents who are not married, the child will reside with the mother, who will have legal custody over the child. Once an AOP is executed and notarized, then the child's father can seek visitation rights with his child anytime afterwards. The child's mother can also seek child support from the child's father.
Establishing paternity is important. When paternity is established, the child's financial needs can be met, and it allows both parents to have a meaningful relationship with the child. This benefits both the child and the parents alike. However, just because an AOP is executed does not automatically mean a father will have custody or visitation rights. To gain these rights, he or she must do so through the court system in Virginia. Therefore, an AOP is the first step in obtaining custody or visitation rights or a child support order.