92% of Virginia babies born out of wedlock have fathers IDed on their birth certificates

Paternity matters for maximum federal funding for low-income Virginians
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Stock photo(Credit: Donnie Ray Jones / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)
Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 8:31 PM EDT
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Each year, Virginia must make sure at least 90% of children born out of wedlock have fathers identified on their birth certificates in order to receive maximum federal funding for low-income families living in the commonwealth.

According to the Virginia Paternity Establishment Program, the state has been exceeding these requirements for at least a decade, even as over one-third of all births in the commonwealth continue to come from unmarried women.

VPEP program manager Yesenia Peiker said in 2022, Virginia had a 92% paternal establishment rate. While the commonwealth’s average rate in hospitals is 77%, Peiker said factoring in births that occur outside of hospitals is what puts Virginia ahead of the curve.

Additionally, Peiker said Virginia’s paternal establishment rates remained high during the COVID-19 pandemic as other states’ rates plummeted. After those states received “warning” letters from the U.S. Office of Child Support Services in 2020 that they could be subject to financial penalties if they didn’t get their percentages up, the federal threshold was lowered to 50% through the end of the 2022 federal fiscal year.

Virginia’s performance is especially notable, Peiker said, considering its program is structured around people reporting paternity on a voluntary basis — unlike some states that require a DNA test or court order to establish paternity for any child born to unmarried parents.

Why does the government care about paternity? Peiker said the reason is that “babies who are born to unmarried parents do not have the same rights as babies born to married parents in the commonwealth of Virginia unless paternity is established.”


NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news...
NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news organization covering state government and policy.(Virginia Mercury)