Grounds for Full Custody in Virginia
When a couple with children under the age of 18 gets divorced in Virginia, the courts determine both legal and physical custody of their children. Legal custody refers to making decisions that affect the child’s life, such as education, medical care, and religious upbringing. Physical custody refers to where the child lives.
Obtaining full custody means that the courts grant one parent both legal and physical custody. Grandparents, stepparents, other relatives, or someone the court determines has a “legitimate interest” in a child, also may file for full custody in Virginia.
The other parent still may have visitation rights, also known under state law as “parenting time,” unless this person has been abusive or the courts have deemed them unfit as a parent.
Full Custody in Virginia and a Child’s Best Interests
Courts in Virginia hesitate to award full custody or sole custody to one parent. According to the state code, the court “shall assure” minors of “frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate.” The courts also “encourage” parents to share child-rearing responsibilities.
However, as the phrase “when appropriate” indicates, the court also weighs several factors related to a child’s best interests. These include:
● A child’s age, mental and physical condition, and developmental needs
● The parents’ age, mental condition, and physical condition
● The existing relationship between each parent and child, including a parent being able to assess and meet the child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual needs
● Each parent’s role in the child’s care and upbringing so far
● Each parent’s tendency to support contact with the child (including whether one parent has unreasonably denied the other parent visitation or access)
● Each parent’s demonstrated ability and willingness to maintain a close relationship with the child and resolve disputes cooperatively
The court also reviews any history of family abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, criminal convictions, violence, or threats. Any person convicted of sexual conduct with a child may not seek custody.
The court also may take into account the child’s wishes if the court finds that the child is of reasonable age, intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a reasonable preference for custody.
Filing for Full Custody in Virginia
Once a court grants a divorce, the divorce decree typically includes a child custody arrangement. If not, a parent can contact the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in the county where they and their children live.
If there is a court order, a parent must petition the court to review or amend it. The court will schedule a hearing and may order mediation, a temporary custody order, a psychological evaluation for both parents, or a court-appointed attorney for the child or children. If the parents do not reach a mutual agreement, the petition goes before the judge for a trial within about one to three months.
Regardless, requesting full custody in Virginia is a complicated process that includes considering lifestyle issues such as relocation for work and anticipated medical needs. If you have questions about the grounds for full custody in Virginia or need help with scheduling or other custody matters, the DiPietro Law Group can assist you. Contact us now to speak with a divorce and family law attorney today.