How Does Child Custody Work in Virginia?

Child custody is an important part of many divorce cases in Virginia. Knowing the type of custody and visitation arrangements available can help you choose the right options for your family. An experienced family law attorney could assist with creating a parenting plan that meets legal requirements and help demonstrate to the court how the plan serves the child’s best interests.

Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody

The two primary types of custody in Virginia are “sole custody” and “joint custody.” In sole custody situations, the child primarily lives with one parent, so that parent is said to have physical custody. A parent with sole custody also has authority to make all major decisions affecting the child, and this authority is referred to as legal custody.

Sole custody is rarely awarded in Virginia. The court will usually only order sole custody under extreme circumstances, such as:

  • One parent has abused the child
  • One parent has unreasonably denied visitation or access to the child
  • One parent regularly undermines the other, or engages in “parental alienation”

With joint custody, both parents may assume responsibility for the child’s daily development. Both parents could also have authority to make major decisions that affect the child. If you are awarded joint custody, you might have joint legal custody to make decisions for your child, joint physical custody with equal or balanced parenting time, or something in-between.

How Is Custody Decided?

Courts in Virginia are legally required to make decisions regarding custody and visitation rights based on the best interests of the child. Some of the most important factors Virginia courts weigh are:

  1. Primary caregiver: The court will consider which parent is responsible for the majority of the child’s day-to-day activities, including medical care, educational involvement, extracurricular activities, morning and bedtime routines, and meals and laundry.
  2. Parent-child relationship: This factor includes the bond between each parent and the child. While the parent-child relationship is difficult to quantify, doing activities with the child, caring for them, or engaging with their extracurricular activities could serve as examples showing a parent’s dedication to the child.
  3. Willingness to co-parent: If you have shown a willingness to co-parent effectively, the court may weigh this factor in your favor. Evidence of this might include communicating with your ex, working with your ex to drop your children off to school and activities, or consulting your ex before making an important decision in the child’s life.
  4. Reasonable preference of the child: The court will also consider a child’s “reasonable preference” about the custody arrangement. If a child is too young or cannot understand what is happening, their opinion will not be viewed as “reasonable.” However, when a child is older and can articulate their feelings, the court may seriously consider their preference.
  5. History of abuse or violence: This factor has potential to outweigh all above factors, as the court is required to keep children out of harm’s way.

Contact an Experienced Child Custody Attorney in Virginia Today

Settling or modifying child custody can be a long and involved process, but with the right help, you could move your case forward toward the desired result. The experienced child custody attorneys of DiPietro Law Group can help answer any questions and guide you through the custody process in Virginia. Contact us today at (888) 530-4374.

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