Virginia Child Custody Laws: An Overview
Few times in life are as stressful and emotionally taxing as during the dissolution of a marriage. Where children are involved, the divorcing parents will be inextricably tied together even though their lives will take separate paths. If you are facing a child custody matter, it is important you fully understand the legal issues involved.
The issues of custody, visitation and support are within the jurisdiction of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Custody may be defined as the care, control and maintenance of the child. There is a presumption in the law that both natural parents are proper custodians, and neither is favored. In all determinations, the best interest of the child is the ultimate guiding principle for the court.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
Custody of a child entails two concepts. Legal custody refers to matters concerning the child’s long-term well-being, such as non-emergency health decisions, religious preferences, educational choices and discipline. Physical custody involves the parent who the child is with at any one time and involves issues of day-to-day living.
Types of Custody Arrangements
Based on the facts and circumstances of the family situation, different custody arrangements are possible. Initially, prior to a court order establishing custody, the child typically lives with one parent due to the fact that the other parent moved out of the family home. This is considered temporary custody pending the court’s order.
In some cases, one parent is awarded sole legal and physical custody, and one parent makes all the decisions and the child has only one primary residence. More typical is a hybrid arrangement that provides joint legal custody and shared physical custody. Under this type of arrangement, both parents have equal input in regard to decisions affecting the child, and both maintain a home for the child, but the child spends more time with one parent than the other.
If you have a working relationship with your child’s other parent, it can be beneficial to work towards an agreement as to custody that you then present to the court. The issues should be specified in as much detail as possible and not merely indicate which parent has legal custody. Address, for example:
- The split of time for holidays and summer vacations
- How, when, where and in what manner transportation of the child between parents will occur
- How the parents will handle proposed schedule changes
- How far away either parent can move
The more detailed the agreement, the better. Put everything in writing; leave nothing to oral promises.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, mediation may be an appropriate alternative to litigation. A mediator does not take sides or reach a conclusion as to the issue but instead serves to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. In addition to private mediation the parties may voluntarily enter into, the court may order mediation as it deems appropriate on any contested matter.