Getting a divorce is stressful on its own. The situation becomes much more complex when it involves children. During your proceedings you will have to decide on a number of logistical issues, the biggest of which is a child custody agreement. The process for child custody in Virginia can be intimidating if you do not know what to expect.
Filing For Custody
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.
The next step in the process for child custody in Virginia is to answer the court summons. You and the other parent will need to appear in court on the date listed in the summons. If the other parent fails to respond the case may proceed without them. In the summons you will receive the date of your Custody Hearing.
It may be necessary to establish a temporary custody agreement. This is not a permanent agreement. It simply determines who will have custody of the child until after the custody hearing. The custody hearing may determine that the other parent will have custody. In which case they will take custody of the child after the hearing. If the family cannot agree on a temporary custody agreement, the judge will decide.
In the custody hearing you will make your case for why the judge should award custody to you. These can be very emotional proceedings but it is important to remain calm and impartial. The primary concern here is for the welfare of the children involved. How you present yourself and your case can have a major impact on the outcome of your hearing. Depending on the nature of your case, your hearing may take place over a period of 3 – 4 days. In more serious cases the hearing may take more than a week.
Each parent will have an opportunity to state their case. The petitioner will present their case first. You should come with a prepared statement, list of witnesses, evidence, and a list of questions to support your case.
To prove your case against the other parent you will need to provide evidence. The laws surrounding the collection and presentation of evidence are very complicated. What you feel is concrete evidence may not be admissible. An experienced family law attorney is familiar with these laws. They will help build your case with evidence the court will accept.
Each side will have the opportunity to call witnesses to support their case. Character witnesses are friends, relatives, teachers, or neighbors. They will give their opinion of your fitness to be the custodial parent.
Your case may require you to call an expert witness to support your case. These are professionals who can speak to certain issues in the case. Their testimony may be pivotal in proving why the other parent should not get custody.
If the other parent has lied in their testimony you may need to call an impeachment witness. An impeachment witness is someone who can discredit the other parent or their witness’s testimony.
You and the other parent will have an opportunity to examine and cross-examine witnesses. This can be a delicate balancing act, and if you aren’t careful, you can hurt your case more than help it.
Not all court proceedings will have an opportunity for closing arguments but you have one prepared. You will make your last statement about the facts of the case and why the court should decide in your favor. If you are the petitioner you you will present your closing arguments first. The other parent will present theirs, and then you will have a chance to respond.
The judge will make their decision based on the facts and testimony presented in the trial. You can only appeal this decision under specific circumstances. Because it is difficult to appeal, it is important to make sure you present a strong case. An experienced family law attorney can help.
When should I hire a lawyer?
We recommend hiring a lawyer as soon as you decide to file for custody. While it is possible to self-represent your case, family law is complicated. It is important to know your rights so you can ensure they are properly upheld, and your child’s best interests are served. At Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C. we specialize in criminal, personal injury, and family law. Our experienced attorneys will walk you through every step of the process for child custody in Virginia. We promise to work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you and your children.
Call Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C. at (703) 361-1555 for more information about the process for child custody in Virginia.