Custody and Visitation
Determining child custody and visitation can be the most difficult and heart-wrenching part of any parental split, whether the parents are married or not. Working with family law attorneys who specialize in child visitation and custody laws is the best course of action to understand your rights and secure time and visitation with your child or children as the court determines what solution is in a child’s best interest. Our experienced, compassionate family law attorneys have helped hundreds of parents negotiate and finalize custody and visitation issues in their favor and protect the best interests of their children through a firm understanding of the legal process through the court system.
There are generally two types of areas of custody to be determined in Virginia: legal custody and physical custody. Beneath each of these, there are subsections: joint legal custody or sole legal custody in one category, and primary physical custody or shared physical custody in another category.
Physical custody refers to the schedule for the children, and how often they are in each parent’s care.
Legal Custody refers to how important decisions are made for the children, such as where they go to school, in what religious tradition they are raised, decisions related to non-emergency medical care, and sometimes, when and where they are allowed to travel outside of the United States.
Sole Legal Custody is when one parent is granted total authority over decision making for the child. This is unusual, because the court is hesitant to prevent a parent from having a voice in important decisions. Circumstances where this is granted include cases with serious mental illness, untreated drug or alcohol addictions, or abusive relationships.
Joint Legal Custody is the other option and is much more common. With joint legal custody, both parents are given equal authority over important decisions affecting their children’s lives.
Physical Custody is decided by the parents or court. They determine when the children will live with each parent. Usually, there is a regular schedule and then a holiday and vacation schedule. Weekly schedules vary widely, depending on the ages of the children, what each parent’s involvement has been with the children, and where the parents live in relation to each other and the children’s schools, as well as a variety of other factors. In general, a decision is made about when the children will be with each parent during the school year, and then time is set aside for each parent during school breaks, federal holidays, and summer vacation, and other times that may be important in your family.
In determining a visitation arrangement, Virginia courts will consider the best interests of the child. Factors such as the ages of the child and parents, physical and mental condition of the child and parents, the child’s relationships with other important family members, and any special needs of the child are some of the factors the court will consider when determining the best interests of the child and an appropriate visitation arrangement.
Parents may also modify a visitation order, but must first demonstrate that a change in circumstances has occurred warranting a modification and that the new arrangement is in the best interest of the child
Regardless of whether your custodial arrangements are decided by the court or between the parents, issues relating to the children (legal and physical custody, time-sharing and/or child support) may be reviewed and modified by the court until your child is emancipated. This is because the court must always act in the best interests of the child, and those interests may change over time.