How Is Child Custody Determined in Virginia?
If you are divorcing your spouse and you share minor children with them, one of the major issues you’ll need to iron out is child custody. It’s not uncommon for parents to disagree over who should have custody.
If you and your spouse can come together and negotiate a custody arrangement that suits you both, a judge will most likely sign off on it, and you won’t have to ask the court to intervene. If you and your spouse can’t agree, then a judge will have to determine your child custody arrangements for you in accordance with Virginia Code Section 20-124.2.
The most important factor that the court considers when ordering child custody and visitation is the child’s best interests. To have the best chance of securing a fair custody arrangement, it’s important to familiarize yourself with how child custody is determined in Virginia and to engage an experienced child custody attorney.
Types of Child Custody
There are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to a parent’s right to reside with and care for their child. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions for their child. As a rule, judges in Virginia prefer to award joint custody to both parents since it’s in the best interests of the child to spend time with both parents and for both parents to be involved in the child’s upbringing.
While many divorced parents share physical and legal custody of their minor children, sometimes judges will award sole physical custody to one parent, meaning the children primarily reside with one parent, while the non-custodial parent has visitation rights. Even when one parent has sole physical custody, judges often award legal custody to both parents. That way, the non-custodial parent gets to have input on major decisions related to the child’s welfare, including decisions about their healthcare, education, and extracurricular activities.
In rare cases, judges will award sole physical and legal custody to one parent, but for a parent to obtain sole legal custody, they must prove that it’s in the child’s best interests. For example, if one parent was physically abusive, a court may agree that it’s in the child’s best interests for the other parent to have sole physical and legal custody.
Factors Used to Determine Child Custody
Neither the mother nor the father gets preferential treatment when it comes to child custody. When determining child custody, judges will consider the following factors:
- The relationship between each parent and the child
- Each parent’s level of involvement in the child’s upbringing
- Age and mental health of the parents and the child
- The child’s personal needs
- Each parent’s willingness to resolve conflict
- Each parent’s willingness to support the child’s interactions with the other parent
- History of abuse in the home
- The child’s best interests
Another important factor the court will consider is each parent’s personal history. If a parent committed adultery, abused alcohol and drugs, was convicted of a crime, has been the subject of CPS complaints, or has been committed to a psychiatric facility in the past, the judge will take that into account when deciding whether that parent should get custody.
Lastly, the court will sometimes consider the child’s personal preference, depending on the child’s age, intelligence, understanding, and experience.
Once custody arrangements have been determined, the judge’s decision is final and can only be changed if one or both of the former spouses petitions the court for a modification. The original child custody order could be modified if one of the parents experiences a significant, material change in circumstances.
Contact a Virginia Beach Child Custody Lawyer Today
If you need help obtaining child custody or modifying an existing child custody arrangement, reach out to the experienced Virginia Beach family lawyer of Hardt Law, P.L.L.C. today at (757) 962-5588 for a free case evaluation.