Deciding on the child custody and visitation arrangements for your child can be one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of your family law case. Each case, and each child, is different. Some children have special needs or concerns that need to be addressed. Sometimes parents have mental health or other issues that prevent them from safely parenting their children, and the custody and visitation plan accordingly needs appropriate safeguards.
Whatever your specific situation, our attorneys have over one hundred years of collective experience to draw from in helping you through this type of litigation. Whether you are deciding custody and visitation for the first time, or are contemplating changing your arrangements after circumstances have changed, you will need an experienced family lawyer to help you determine your family’s specific needs and help you get them resolved.
Whenever possible, we strive to keep custody matters out of court. Our attorneys have successfully negotiated custody and visitation schedules in even the most contentious of cases. However, if negotiation does not lead to an acceptable resolution, our attorneys will handle your case aggressively to seek the best possible outcome for your child in court.
Our experience has been that success depends upon a detailed and individualized plan. Make an appointment to meet with any one of our experienced attorneys to ensure you are well equipped to resolve your custody and visitation disputes.
Child Custody Law in Virginia
How is Custody Determined in Virginia?
The Court must decide custody based upon the best interests of the child. To determine “best interests” the Court must consider the factors set forth in Virginia Code Section 20-124.3:
- The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
- The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
- The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due 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 due 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 in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
- The reasonable preference 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 as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination
Virginia Child Custody FAQ
I have been raising my grandson since he was born two years ago. His father is not around, and his mother (my daughter) has been battling a drug and alcohol addiction. My daughter has recently announced to me that she is now “clean” and wants to take her child and move to another state so she can “start over”. I do not believe my daughter is capable of taking care of a child, and I am terrified that she will relapse. Do I have the right to petition the court for custody of my grandson?
Yes. Anyone with a “legitimate interest” may file a petition for the custody, visitation or support of a child when the child’s custody, visitation or support is a subject of controversy or requires determination. Examples of a people who may have a “legitimate interest” include grandparents, stepparents or former stepparents, blood relatives and family members. Whether a non-parent is successful in acquiring custodial rights depends on various circumstances, such as the relationship between that person and the child, and the availability of a legal parent to care for the child.
My husband and I didn’t get married until after our child was born. Is my husband our child’s legal father under Virginia law?
Yes, assuming that no other person has been found to be the child’s father by the Court, and you were not married to someone else at the time of the child’s birth (or up to 10 months prior to the birth), your husband will be presumed to be the legal father of your child.
What is a Guardian ad litem?
A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is a lawyer appointed by the Court whose responsibility it is to represent the “best interests” of the child. Whether or not a GAL is appointed is at the discretion of the Court.
Is a Court’s decision regarding custody permanent?
Issues involving custody and parental access to a child are modifiable if there has been a material change in circumstance since the last court order was entered and if the proposed change is found to be in the child’s best interest. Courts retain jurisdiction to alter custody arrangements until the child is emancipated.
Can my child decide who she wants to live with?
The preference of a child to live with one parent or another is just one factor that the Court must consider in determining custody. The weight that the Court puts on the factor is frequently influenced by the child’s age and maturity, and is always at the discretion of the Court.
Can I move and take my children out of the state?
It depends. If there is no court order setting forth custodial arrangements, then neither parent has superior rights to the children and may travel with the children. However, issues such as jurisdiction over custody and a possible divorce can be affected by where a parent and the children reside. Also, the Courts may not look favorably upon a parent who leaves with the children if it is done to the detriment of the other parent. It is best to consult with an attorney to discuss a move prior to leaving with the children.
Local Courts in Northern Virginia
Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts