When divorcing, one of the most potentially contentious issues is that of child custody. In Virginia, custody refers to the control, maintenance and care of a child or children.
In some situations, having the court decide on child custody issues isn’t necessary. However, this isn’t always the case. When the court is involved with child custody decisions, they are required to determine what is in the child’s best interest.
Types of custody in Virginia
There are two categories of child custody in Virginia. There is legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody can be either joint or sole. As the name implies, with joint legal custody, both parents maintain some control and decision-making role in the child’s life. With sole legal custody, one parent is responsible for the major decision-making for the child. Physical custody can take a variety of forms, including sole physical custody, primary physical custody, or shared physical custody (which can still have a primary parent, or be 50/50 shared).
Considerations when making custody decisions
The term “best interest of the child” is somewhat vague. This means that the court will look at both parents and a variety of factors to determine who is best suited to care for the child.
Some of the specific things a judge will consider when making custody decisions include:
- The physical and mental health of each parent and of the child
- The ability of each parent to care for the child and each parent’s ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of the child
- The child’s relationship with each parent, both historically and the role the parent will play in the future
- Cases of neglect, abuse or domestic violence by either parent against the child
- The impact on the child if changing an existing custody arrangement
- How well each parent can provide the child with a loving and stable environment
- The child’s other important relationships, including but not limited to siblings, peers, and extended family members
- What the child wants (if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express such a preference)
Your rights in child custody cases
As a parent, your wishes and concerns regarding child custody will be considered when a judge makes a ruling, but this is by no means a deciding factor. Understanding your legal rights and how to best prepare for a custody case is the best way to help you get a desirable custody arrangement.