Q: What factors does the court consider when assigning physical custody?
The court is very concerned with protecting the rights and health of any children affected by the divorce. Factors that can influence the court’s opinion include:
* The ages of the children and their preferences, if they’re old enough;
* Whether the parents demonstrate a willingness to cooperate with one another;
* The court’s assessment of the parental homes: are they nurturing, healthy, clean and safe?
* Whether either parent has a history of being abusive, physically or emotionally;
* The children’s relationships with siblings and other family members — how might various custody arrangements affect those relationships?
* The physical and mental capacities of both parents;
* The parents’ lifestyles and work schedules;
* Whether the children have any special mental, emotional or physical needs;
* The history of the family. For instance, has one parent been the primary care giver for several years, or have the parents shared responsibility?
Q: Does the court automatically give preferential treatment to the mother in custody negotiations?
In the past, the court had been biased in favor of mothers. There was a period of time in history when the court actually had a bias towards fathers. The modern trend is a gender-neutral focus centered-around the best interests of the child.
Q: Do grandparents have any physical or legal custody rights?
Grandparent’s rights are akin to those of other third-parties, who can include relatives or even close friends in some cases. If a parent objects to grandparent visitation, the burden of proof required by the grandparent to show that visitation is in the child’s best interests rises to a higher standard. Virginia has a statute that this falls under, which allows so-called “persons of legitimate interest” to pursue their custody rights in court. This does not mean that a grandparent can automatically get custody, but it does give him or her opportunities to pursue rights.
Q: Under what circumstances might the court grant custody to grandparents or other “persons of legitimate interest”?
* The parents have been abusive or neglectful;
* The parents abandoned the child;
* The parents are mentally ill or without financial means to support the child.