Custody & Visitation
The question of “what will happen to the kids?” is perhaps the one that worries parents most when considering a divorce. While in many cases the parents’ separation can be good for the children, each parent rightly wonders how it will impact their relationship with their kids and what can be done to ensure that their parent/child bond will remain intact.
A major factor in the success of these relationships can simply be time, and a child custody agreement seeks to divide the child’s time between the parents. There are many factors that may help determine the amount of time a child spends with each parent, and a skilled custody attorney can help a parent secure as much of that time as possible.Determining Parenting Plans in Virginia
The Virginia court system seeks to determine a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the children. While opinions may differ on what truly is in a child’s best interest, it is the goal of the legal process to ensure that children are always in a safe, secure, and loving environment. Some common considerations include:
- The age and physical and mental condition of the child;
- The age and physical and mental condition of the parent;
- The role each parent has played in caring for the child in the past;
- The living conditions of each parent’s home;
- The ability of the parent to support the child;
- Any history of abuse or neglect by either parent;
- The wishes of the children if they are old enough to express themselves; and
- Each parent’s willingness to work with and respect the other parent.
Under Virginia law, both parents have an equal right to physical custody of their children, even if those parents are not married. So, it is possible to successfully seek at least some custody of your children even if you cannot meet all the criteria on this list. Today, no preference is to be given to the mother over the father.
Additionally, state law stipulates that custody does not have to be limited to parents. Grandparents, stepparents, and other relatives may be able to pursue custody of children in certain situations.Common Virginia Parenting Plan Arrangements
There are many different types of custody arrangements that can be made. Every family is different, so what works for one family may be inappropriate for another. There is no such thing as a “typical” custody arrangement. However, custody usually falls into one of these categories:
Legal Custody/Decision Making: Decision making can be joint or sole. Courts prefer joint decision making related to major decisions that affect the child. However, shared decision making may not be appropriate in cases where one parent refuses to work with the other parent, where there are issues of drug and alcohol abuse, when one parent is incarcerated or when there has been spousal or child abuse.
Primary Physical Custody v. Shared Physical Custody/Parenting Plans : In the past decade, there has been a major shift from every other weekend to more of a shared parenting plan. This does not necessarily mean 50-50 but family law practitioners and the courts have been much more creative. An example is every Thursday overnight and every other weekend from Thursday evening to Monday morning.
Whatever the custody arrangement, a parent cannot be kept from seeing his or her child. Unless your parental rights have been terminated, you are entitled to at least some form of visitation with your child or children. For parents with a history of child abuse, substance abuse, or other complications, it may be necessary to have supervised visitation.The Legal Process to Secure Child Custody
Often, child custody arrangements can be made between parents with the help of a skilled lawyer. Parents can negotiate an agreement they feel is in the best interest of everyone involved without the involvement of a third-party decision maker. Other times, it can be more difficult to reach an agreement. In those cases, the decision could fall to a mediator, arbitrator, or a judge. In those cases, it is important to have an experienced advocate on your side who understands local child custody law and can present your case to the best advantage. This is especially important as once a court has dictated a custody order, it cannot be modified unless there has been a significant change in some factor relevant to the case that occurred since the decision was made.
To seek custody of a child, a parent must follow a specific path dictated by the law. An attorney can help parents:
- File a petition for custody;
- Arrange to attend a required parenting education class;
- Prepare for and attend a custody hearing; and
- File an appeal if necessary and appropriate.
While there are so many personal considerations that need to be made when navigating the divorce process, child custody continues to be one of the most impactful. If you have children, the stakes are too high to move forward without trusted and tenacious representation to protect your rights and interests. Whether you expect your spouse to be amenable to a custody agreement or you anticipate a fight, it is best to be prepared and make sure your rights are protected to ensure the continued strength of your relationship with your children.
Please contact us at 703-865-7480 so that we may assist you with custody and visitation matters.