In recent years, Virginia law has taken a liberal approach to determining who can seek custody and/or visitation rights of a minor child. The law states that mothers, fathers, legal guardians and “persons with a legitimate interest” may ask a court to decide matters involving the custody or visitation of a minor child.
The question then becomes, who has a legitimate interest?
Obviously, the natural parents, legally sanctioned guardians and in most cases, adoptive parents of a minor child have vested rights or legitimate interests in seeking custody or visitation of their minor child. Virginia law has also recognized that in certain instances, grandparents have a legitimate interest in seeking custody or visitation of their grandchildren.
However, Virginia now recognizes that step-grandparents can ask for custody of a minor child. In fact, persons with a legitimate interest in custody or visitation now include “grandparents, step-grandparents, stepparents, former stepparents, blood relatives and family members.” And those eligible for custody or visitation may extend well beyond the above enumerated categories of family members.
Virtually anyone who can show a legitimate interest in custody or visitation may receive it, so long as a court determines it is in the child’s best interest. This has always been the standard court’s use to make custody/visitation orders.
However, it should be noted that where a father or mother (or both) already has legal custody of their child and there is no indication of abuse or maltreatment of the child, a court will order custody or visitation of the child to another person only in the rarest and extreme circumstances. The law still presumes that children belong in the care and custody of their natural parents, wherever possible, so long as it is in the child’s best interests.
If you are dealing with a child custody or visitation case, you need the help of a qualified family law attorney who knows the law in your jurisdiction. Whether you are seeking to obtain custody/visitation or to block it, consult with an experienced attorney as early in the process as possible.
The DiPietro Family Law Group has teams of experienced family lawyers in Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC. Contact us to schedule a consultation today at (888) 530-4374.