Child Custody Lawyer in Manassas
The logistics of a divorce are difficult enough when no children are involved. While issues such as division of assets and debts can get heated and complex, they pale in comparison to deciding who gets primary custody of minor children. If you’re going through a divorce and you and your spouse cannot agree on what living arrangement is best for the kids, it’s important to educate yourself about the different types of custody arrangements. This includes both legal and physical custody.
Types of Custody Definitions
Temporary custody refers to the party with whom the children primarily live at the time of the divorce filing. Temporary custody should not be considered an initial award of custody.
Sole custody means that the children live primarily in only one home. This parent has the right to make decisions regarding the everyday needs of the children.
In a sole custody situation, the parent has primary legal custody as well. This means he or she has the legal right to decide on important matters regarding the children, including where they go to school, type of religious instruction, medical care, discipline, and more.
In a joint custody situation, custody of a child or children is shared by both parents.
Three types of joint custody exist in Virginia. These include:
- Joint legal custody: The children live primarily with one parent, but both have the right to make long-range decisions for them such as education, travel, and medical treatment.
- Shared physical custody: In this scenario, the children have two primary places of residence. They spent approximately equal time with each parent in his or her own home.
- Combination of joint legal and shared physical custody: A variation of the above is where the children stay in the same home and the parents rotate.
Family law courts desire that children have as much access as possible to both parents after a divorce when that is in the child’s best interests. In fact, the best interests of the children take precedence over the desire or wishes of either parent. When they can’t agree on a custody arrangement on their own, a family law court judge will evaluate some or all of the following factors:
- Ability to maintain relationships with other family members: Are the parents willing to help facilitate a relationship between their children and former in-laws or other extended family members? Judges look at who can set aside their own possible discomfort for the benefit of uninterrupted family relationships.
- Financial resources: Does one parent make significantly more than the other so he or she can provide a higher standard of living?
- Fitness: Does each parent have the physical and psychological capacity to care for the children on their own? The judge will carefully consider whether spousal or child abuse has been a factor, even if the latter was not directed at the children in question.
- Individual factors: Family law courts carefully consider the age and gender of each child as well as his or her special health needs. Children who are too young to voice their opinion generally do best when remaining with their primary caregiver. Some children are especially attached to the parent of the same gender, which judges do consider in custody cases.
- Location of each parent: In joint custody arrangements, the proximity of the parents to one another makes a big difference. A judge also considers such things as distance from school, other relatives, and general social circle.
- Preferences of the children: A family court employee may interview children apart from their parents to get a sense of what they prefer. This can occur as young as 9 years old depending on their muturity. The older the children, the more weight a judge will give to their preferences. Children themselves may even be assigned an attorney (a Guardian ad Litem) in highly contested cases.
- Primary caregiver: Which parent currently cares for the children most on a day-to-day basis? This includes such things as bathing, dressing, dropping off at school or daycare, and buying their food and clothes. Do the children seem to turn to one parent over the other for comfort?
- Religious differences: The judge determines if the religious practices of one parent have a negative impact on the children or whether the parents are likely to agree on the type of faith the children should be raised with.
- Time of separation: How long the parents have been separated determines how well the children have acclimated to their current living situation. A judge will carefully consider the impact of a major change.
Visitation When One Parent Has Primary Custody
If one parent receives primary custody of the children, the other parent normally has the right to a liberal visitation schedule. This will be determined by the judge if the parents themselves cannot work it out.
It is rare for Virginia courts to deny visitation rights, even in cases of abuse. In some situations, the non-custodial parent may only be eligible for supervised visitation. This means that his or her interactions with the children must be supervised by an approved third party and can only take place at a certain location and time.
When biological parents were never married, their offspring are assumed to be children of the mother. The father must prove his paternity by acknowledging it in court, testing, marrying the mother and then stating himself as the father, or his open recognition of the children as his. After the court establishes paternity, it can’t show preference to either parent based on gender.
Process of Gaining Child Custody in Virginia
The first step in the process for child custody in Virginia is to file for custody. To file you must address the following:
Custody is determined by the child’s state of residence. To file for custody in Virginia, the child must have lived in the state for at least 6 consecutive months before filing. If the child has not lived in Virginia for the preceding 6 months you must file for custody in that state.
Schedule An Appointment
You will need to contact your county’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to see which forms you will need and how to get them. Some forms may be available online, others you will need to collect at the courthouse. Some courts may require you to schedule an appointment to pick them up.
Prepare Your Petition
You will also need to prepare a petition for custody. Your petition should emphasize the factors Virginia uses to determine custody. Virginia family law dictates that judges consider the following when determining custody:
- Child’s age, physical, and mental condition
- Parent’s age, physical, and mental condition
- Parent-child relationships
- Child’s relationships with siblings and extended family
- Parental history as a caregiver
- Parental willingness to support parent-child relations with the other parent
- Child’s preference
- Any history of family abuse
There are templates available to help you write your petition. A family law attorney, such as those at Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C. will be happy to help you write your petition. Hiring an experienced family law attorney will help ensure the best outcome for your custody case. This is especially important if your case involves domestic abuse or supervised visitation.
You will need to prepare a summons, which notifies the other parent that you are filing for custody. They must respond by the deadline or the court proceedings may continue without them.
You will also need to pay any associated fees to complete your filing. If you cannot afford these fees you can ask the court for a waiver.
A law enforcement officer or process server will need to serve the documents to the other parent. If they live out of state, the court clerk can mail them out. If you do not know where the other parent lives you may need to publish a notice in the newspaper. This shows the court that you made all reasonable attempts to notify the other parent. You will also need to file a document with the court to verify this.
Get Help with Your Virginia Child Custody Case Today
At Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C., we understand that disputed custody is one of the most stressful situations Virginia parents can face. We are here to fight for the best interests of you and your children. Please contact our office today to schedule a confidential review of your child custody case.