Determining child custody in Virginia

While it's easy to see how a divorce can be a trying time for a splitting couple, it is important not to overlook the additional emotional toll a drawn-out divorce can take on the children of the marriage.

Tragically, children often get caught in the middle of contentious divorces as both parents vie for custody. Fortunately when courts in Virginia resolve custody disputes, their foremost concern is the well-being of the child involved.

Establishing Child Custody

Courts in Virginia are generally free to order either joint of sole custody of a child following a divorce, but ultimately the court is required under Virginia law to give "primary considerations" to what is in the best interests of the child when making custody determinations.

When evaluating what is in the best interests of the child, there are several factors enumerated in Virginia statutory law that a court shall consider. These include:

  • The physical and mental condition of the child, as well as his or her age - making sure to give consideration to the child's changing needs
  • The physical and mental condition of each parent, as well as his or her age
  • The needs of the child - making sure to consider the child's other important relationships, such as with friends and siblings
  • The expressed preference of the child, as long as it is reasonable and the court determines the child is of appropriate age and intelligence to express such a preference
  • The role of each parent in the raising of the child, and his or her expected role in the future
  • The existing relationship between each parent and the child
  • The propensity of each parent to help maintain the child's relationship with the other parent
  • The ability of each parent to maintain a relationship with the child and cooperate with each other to resolve issues impacting the child
  • History of physical or sexual abuse in the family

In addition, Virginia courts are free to consider all other factors it feels is necessary to make its decision.

Modifying Virginia child custody orders

After a child custody order is in place, it is quite possible that circumstances may change for either parent - thus necessitating a change in the child custody arrangement.

Courts in Virginia generally apply a two-pronged test when determining whether to modify a child custody decree: a) Has there been a change in circumstances, and b) is a change in custody in the best interests of the child?

Seek help if involved in child custody fight

As this article illustrates, the law surrounding child custody can get quite complex in Virginia - which can get even more complicated if parents are moving from state to state. Accordingly, if you are currently involved in a child custody dispute, or wish to modify a current child custody decree, it may be advisable to speak with an experienced family law attorney in order to learn what your rights and options may be given your circumstances.