When two parents are divorcing, they have the ability to create a parenting plan that outlines how time with, and responsibilities regarding, children will be shared. Creating a parenting plan outside of the court is always recommended; this gives parents autonomy to develop a blueprint for time sharing that they want and that works best for them, is best for the child, and reduces the costs of going to court.
Unfortunately, not all parents are able to reach a parenting agreement on their own. Sometimes, relationships are so contentious or desires for a child so different that an out-of-court agreement is impossible. When this is the case, going to court and relying on a judge to determine custody of your child may be the best–and perhaps your only–option. If you go to court, here is what you need to know about how the judge will decide regarding your custody case.
A Judge Must Make a Decision Based on the Best Interests of the Child
In Virginia (and in all states in the nation), a court must make a custody decision that is based on the best interests of the child. A court can award custody to either parent (mothers are not automatically favored), may award joint or sole physical or legal custody, and may also recognize the visitation rights of any grandparents. In order to determine the best interests of a child in Virginia, the court will weigh a number of factors, including:
- The age and mental and physical condition of the child;
- The ages and mental and physical conditions and abilities of each parent;
- The relationship that exists between each parent and the child;
- The needs of the child;
- How each parent has cared for the child up until the point of separation;
- Each parent’s willingness to promote a loving relationship between the child and the other parent; and
- Any other factors that the court deems reasonable.
As found in Code of Virginia Section 20-124.3, a child’s preferences may also be considered when the child is of reasonable age, understanding, and intelligence to express a preference.
Things That Can Help or Hurt Your Child Custody Case
If custody of your child is dependent upon the decision of a judge, it is important that you know how to approach your child custody case and what things may help or hurt your chances of the case being settled in your favor. Things that could hurt your child custody case include:
- Refusing to compromise with the other parent, which could demonstrate your unwillingness to support a relationship between the other parent and your child;
- Badmouthing the other parent in front of your child;
- Posting inappropriate material on social media;
- Shirking your parental duties (i.e. missing pick-up times at school);
- Lying or misrepresenting the truth;
- Losing your job;
- Engaging in any type of illegal activity; or
- Inappropriately using drugs or alcohol.
Things that can help your child custody case, on the other hand, including being willing to compromise and keeping an open mind, spending as much time as possible with your child, asking teachers or neighbors to provide statements regarding your loving relationship with your child, learning more about Virginia family law, and hiring an experienced Virginia family law attorney to represent you in the court process.
Working with an Experienced Virginia Child Custody Attorney Is Important
If your child custody case is going to court, the next few weeks or months of your life could have a significant impact on your future. Whether or not you are awarded custody of your child is certainly not something you want to chance; instead, you want to do everything possible to secure the best outcome for your case. Working with an experienced Virginia family law attorney, such as the child custody attorney at Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C. is essential for understanding the law, learning what a judge is looking for, avoiding common mistakes, and presenting your case.
At Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C. we know what’s on the line. If you have questions about child custody, contact us today at (707) 361-1555 for an initial consultation and answers you can trust.