The Differences Between Legal and Physical Child Custody in Virginia

In any custody dispute, both legal and physical custody must be determined. The parents may come to their own agreement, which must be approved by a court, or they can leave the determination to a judge. In most cases custody will be shared in some way or another. In order for parents to ensure they get what is most important to them in a custody battle, whether that is physical custody, the power to make decisions, or a combination of the two, it is important to understand the differences between legal and physical custody before embarking on the process.

Legal custody refers to who has the power to make decisions. Joint legal custody is a common arrangement in Virginia. This means that both parents share the power to make decisions regarding their child’s education and general upbringing, and assumes that the parents have a good enough relationship to facilitate the necessary conversation.

Physical custody, on the other hand, is which parent the child spends time with. Although both parents may have the power through joint legal custody to make decisions on behalf of their child, the child may spend most or all of his or her time with one parent or the other. Joint physical custody is not common in Virginia. In most cases, one parent is awarded primary physical custody of the child, with the other parent retaining visitation rights. This can take many forms depending on the individual circumstances of the case. For instance, children can live with each parent on a rotating weekly basis, or they may live with the primary physical custodian during the school year and with the other parent during summer vacation.

Whenever a court decides on a custody arrangement, the best interests of the child are paramount. Courts in Virginia also seek to ensure continuing and frequent between the child and both parents, unless this is not feasible. Parents are encouraged to work together to raise their children, but courts will not hesitate to intervene when they fail to do so.

Any custody dispute is stressful. An experienced family law attorney will work on your behalf to ease the strain and ensure the best result possible for you and your child. The attorneys of DiPietro Family Law Group are ready to help all those in the Northern Virginia area with issues relating to child custody. Contact them today by calling (888) 530-4374 to schedule a consultation.

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