In Virginia, paternity and child support can be pursued in two ways:
- You can open a case through the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE). In order to open a case, you need to obtain an application at the local office, Courthouse Station, 9309 Center Street, Manassas, VA. Call 1-800-762-9970.
- You can file a petition at the Juvenile Intake Office located at 9540 Center Street, Manassas, VA.
Almost all children have a birth certificate indicating the identity of their mother; however, for some children, the identity of the father is not clear.
If a man has admitted to fathering a child, he may be named as the father on the child's birth certificate. Or, he may have signed a statement at the hospital when the child was born acknowledging that he is the child's father.
If his name is not on the birth certificate and he has not signed any statements, he can still voluntarily acknowledge paternity by:
a. completing an acknowledgment of paternity (if the case is being pursued by DCSE);
b. acknowledging under oath (in open Court), that he is the father of the child in question.
Presumption of Paternity
There are certain situations in which the law presumes that someone is the father of a child. For example, when a child is born to a married couple, the law presumes that the husband is the father of the minor child. Likewise, once a man signs a written statement under oath indicating the man is the father, the law presumes he is the father. A conclusive presumption also arises when the parties undergo genetic testing (DNA tests) and the tests show a probability of paternity of 98% or higher. Paternity can also be accomplished by legally adopting a child.
Once paternity is established, the father has rights and responsibilities. Among his responsibilities, he may be obligated to provide financial support and health care coverage for his child(ren).
Steps to Establishing Paternity and Child Support
Administratively through DCSE
Once a case is opened with DCSE, the DCSE will begin to attempt to establish paternity. The first step is to locate the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent must be given notice of the action being taken against him. DCSE has several resources available to them locate non-custodial parents, however, the custodial parent must provide as much information as possible.
Once the non-custodial parent is located, paternity needs to be established. The father can voluntarily acknowledge paternity (as discussed above)
or he can request paternity tests. Once paternity is legally established, support can be addressed.
To set the amount of support, Virginia uses the child support guideline which has been established by the General Assembly. The guideline takes into consideration such things as both parents' income, the number of children each parent supports, and the costs of work-related day care.
Judicially through the Court
In order to establish paternity and support through the Court, a petition must be filed. The petition can be obtained from the juvenile intake office
at 703-792-6210 or 703-792-7350.
Serving the petition:
After the petition is filed, the clerk's office will docket the case for a preliminary hearing. The initiating party will receive a "summons" notifying the person of the Court date. The sheriff will attempt to serve the other party with a summons. Service of process is a very important step. It is necessary to provide proof that the other party has received proper notice of the proceedings. There are two ways to have documents served:
1) the sheriff's office (which will be initiated by the clerk's office) or,
2) a private process server.
Whichever method is used, the petition and summons must be:
1) delivered to the other party personally
2) left with a person of suitable age and discretion at the non-custodial parent's house
3) posted at the front door of the party's residence
The filing party must appear at the hearing, and if the party fails to appear, the case could be dismissed. Likewise, if a non-custodial parent who has been properly served with notice of the hearing fails to appear at the hearing, a "capias" can be issued for his/her arrest.
When you arrive for your hearing, look for your name on the docket which is located on the wall between courtrooms two (2) and three (3). This will tell you the courtroom in which the case will be heard. Then listen for your name to be called in that courtroom.
The first hearing date is a preliminary hearing. A five to 10 minute hearing will be held to determine the status of the proceedings. If an agreement can be reached, the Court can issue an order on that date. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, a specific date will be set to allow more time to resolve the issues.
Just as with the administrative process, the Court will consider the following factors to determine the amount of support to be paid;
1) gross income of each party
2) number of children each party supports
3) the costs of work-related day care
4) the costs of health care coverage, and who provides it.
Information to be provided by Petitioner
In cases where paternity is at issue, the petitioner should bring evidence that the respondent is the father.
In support cases, the petitioner should bring documents to prove his or her gross income, such as pay stubs, tax returns, etc. The petitioner should also provide proof of any day care expenses.
Information to be provided by the Respondent
If paternity has not already been established, the respondent needs to tell the Court whether he acknowledges paternity or whether he wishes to have paternity testing.
If the parties have a case with DCSE, that office (DCSE) will initially pay for the paternity test. If he is excluded, he will not have to pay for the test. However, if the man is found to be the father, he will be required to reimburse DCSE. (approximate cost $300.00)
Parties who do not have cases through DCSE can be required to undergo testing that is arranged by the Court.
Once paternity is established, a support order will be sought. Therefore, the respondent should bring certain documents to Court as well. These include proof of income, such as pay stubs, tax returns, etc. The respondent also needs to provide information concerning the availability and costs of health care coverage.
Once an order is entered, the Court can order that payments be made directly to the Division of Child Support Enforcement or by wage withholding through the DCSE. The Court can also require the respondent to provide health care coverage for the minor child(ren). (When calculating the guideline, the respondent will be given credit for providing health care coverage.)
Definition of Income
Income is defined in the Code of Virginia as income from all sources and shall include, but not be limited to, income from salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits, workers compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, veterans benefits, spousal support, rental income, gifts, prizes or awards.