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Child Custody in the Commonwealth of Virginia

Child custody often goes hand in hand with divorce in Virginia circuit court, however, Virginia Beach parents seeking to establish a custody arrangement can also do so through the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court before seeking a divorce or never being married.  Child custody issues can be even more in-depth if one or both parents are serving in the US Military. Military divorce is vary specific, especially when children are involved. Child custody matters handled by this court include, but may not be limited to, the following:

  • Custody arrangements and visitation
  • Issuance of temporary orders pending a contested trial (where the parents contest or disagree on custody matters)
  • Appointment of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the best interests of the child
  • Child support
  • Mental health and substance abuse evaluations
  • Motions to amend existing custody or visitation orders
  • Motions/filings to demonstrate a parent has failed to pay child support
  • Post-divorce custody and visitation issues
  • Motions/filings to demonstrate a parent has failed to obey a court order (i.e., in contempt of court)
  • Protective orders to protect a child and/or parent from abuse, such as assault and battery


Types of Child Custody and Factors For Determining the Custodial Parent

There are various types of child custody that include the following: split, sole, shared, divided, and joint.  The court will consider various factors to determine what is in the best interest of the child, and what custody arrangement is best.  These factors include the following:

  • The age and physical/mental condition of the child with consideration of the child’s changing developmental needs
  • The age and physical/mental condition of each parent
  • The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child
  • The needs of the child, giving consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to, siblings, peers and extended family members
  • The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child
  • The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child
  • The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child
  • The reasonable preferences of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference
  • Any history of family abuse or sexual abuse
  • Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination

Custody matters can also be dealt with in Virginia’s Circuit Courts along with filing for divorce.  Depending on a family’s situation, addressing custody issues as part of a divorce may or may not be a good option.  At Hardt Law, P.L.L.C., every client will receive a case evaluation to determine if child custody should be addressed in the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court or the Circuit Court.  The Circuit Court can handle the same exact custody issues as the juvenile court, but may consider the additional factor of how the marital residence should be used.


When Do I Need an Attorney for a Child Custody Matter?

It is always best to learn about what legal options are available before attempting to take on a custody matter without the assistance of an attorney.  While some legal matters can be resolved without the help of an attorney, child custody matters are highly sensitive and a child’s livelihood is on the line.  As such, consulting with a Virginia child custody attorney before taking action is crucial to ensure a parent is aware of all options and how to further the child’s best interests.

For example, if a child is in a situation where one parent is attempting to turn the other parent away from the child, it is important for a court to be aware of such conduct, as this may play a role in how a court determines the best custody arrangement for the child.  When a parent’s attempts to turn a child against the other parent are successful, the child may begin to exhibit behavior associated with what is called “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).”  A child who exhibits behaviors of PAS may begin to ignore or refuse to have contact with one parent.

While PAS is not a diagnosable medical condition, it is something that describes a set of behaviors seen in situations where parents are harshly at odds with one another.  In the end, it is the child who suffers.  To ensure a child’s interests are being furthered, and to ensure a court is aware of all aspects of the child’s life, it is imperative to consider having an attorney handle the matter.  An attorney can gather evidence and help to shape a custody arrangement that is both best for the child and is something a court will agree on.

Another example of why speaking with an attorney is important is potential child abuse.  If one parent is aware that the other parent is abusing the child, a court will need to know about it, and an attorney can present this evidence.  A custody order to protect a potentially abused child is essential, and an attorney has the ability to fight for the best arrangement possible to protect the child.

There are additional ways in which custody disputes can become heated and contentious.  Therefore, the best option is to let an attorney handle the difficult child custody process.  By working with an attorney, a parent can have a child custody matter resolved in the quickest way possible in the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court.  A parent considering divorce can then have the challenges of custody matters behind them when filing for divorce.  Oftentimes, child custody battles make a divorce more contentious and painful.  By having custody matters (such as spousal support/alimony, child support, and visitation agreements, among others) handled in the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court, the divorce process can be much smoother.


How Hardt Law, P.L.L.C. Can Help You Move Forward During a Difficult Time

Contacting an attorney is not an easy decision to make.  It takes careful consideration of all options and an understanding that legal action may be the best way to resolve a custody matter or divorce.  Working with a highly qualified and experienced Virginia child custody and divorce attorney is essential to ensure every client is receiving necessary legal representation.

At Hardt Law, P.L.L.C., Patricia Hardt not only has extensive trial and litigation experience, but she also has experience as both a prosecutor and public defender.  Ms. Hardt is licensed in Virginia, Washington D.C., Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  If you would like to schedule a consultation and learn about what options may be best for your situation, you should consider contacting Hardt Law, P.L.L.C. today by calling (757) 962-5588.



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