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Child support and custody for divorced and unmarried fathers

Some Virginia fathers may face obstacles in getting custody or visitation rights to their children. If they fall far enough behind in child support, for example, they could go to jail. They could also lose visitation rights if the other parent files for and receives a protective order which includes the child. The father's ability to see his child could be impacted for the duration of the protective order. Courts are not supposed to favor mothers over fathers, but mothers make up more than 80 percent of custodial parents.

Fathers struggling to keep up with support payments should still pay what they can. In addition, they may want to work with an attorney to request a modification in support. Courts may grant these in some cases, such as after a job loss. While a modification will not affect past support payments, it can lower future obligations.

If a father appears to be endangering a child, the other parent may file a protection order. A judge will grant such an order if there is evidence to support it. Fathers facing such an order should comply with the court. Legal counsel could address how to respond.

Unmarried fathers may face additional hurdles to getting custody or visitation rights. Since they will not be automatically listed on the birth certificate, they may need to first establish paternity. After that, it could be up to a court to decide what is in the child's best interests.

Parents who have an informal arrangement in place for custody and visitation might want to make it legally binding. This can offer protection if one parent fails to honor the agreement and tries to block the other's access. Establishing this could be particularly important for unmarried fathers. Agreements for custody and visitation should clearly establish when the child will be with each parent and include plans for vacation and holidays to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings or conflict.

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