When you are seeking to obtain a divorce in Virginia and there are minor children involved, you need to consider the effects of the divorce on the children both during and after the legal proceedings.  It is important to keep in mind that while the children do not have a say in whether or not their parents separate or divorce, their lives will be strongly affected by it. As a result, the court will often attempt to minimize the effects of the parents’ separation on the children’s home life, their community life, and their education wherever possible.  The best interests of the child are always going to be essential to any determination of legal or physical custody.  It is important for the parents to keep in mind their children’s best interests as they are going through the divorce proceedings, and a Virginia custody attorney with experience in a variety of cases will be helpful to make sure all factors of child custody are taken into consideration.

How Child Custody is Determined

Virginia laws regarding parenting rights and parenting obligations to support children are gender neutral, meaning that both natural parents have the same rights and obligations to their children. In determining how custody should be structured, the court is required to consider the best interests of the child.  While the court will consider many factors and circumstances that may be presented by the parents, the courts are often swayed by a schedule that is less disruptive to children, so as to minimize the effects of the divorce on the child.

It is important to keep in mind that courts prefer to set up schedules that allow minor children to have regular interaction with both parents.  The court must consider factors such as the age, and physical and mental condition of each parent, the existing relationship between the parent and the child, the needs of the child, and the role each parent has played in the upbringing and care of the child. The court will also consider the propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with their other parent and the willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with their child.  Other factors for the court to consider with child custody are the reasonable preference of the child if the child is of an age and maturity level to have a preference, and any history of family abuse.

Common Issues

It not uncommon for parents to seek full custody of their children, especially when the divorce is volatile or emotionally charged.  Often these requests stem from a parent’s own feelings about the other parent, and not as much from concerns that specifically relate to the well-being of the minor child. Courts typically consider such a request in cases where there is a history of abuse or in situations where a child may be in danger in the care of one of the parents.  And it is important to realize that because the law favors a child having contact with both parents, courts may be wary of those who have an all-or-nothing approach to the custody issue.

It is also important to know that support and custody/visitation are largely separate issues from the perspective of the court.  Parents often think that custodial access to a child is controlled by whether or not the other parent has paid support.  While the law places an obligation on both parents to support their children, it does not necessarily follow that a parent who is behind their  support payments may be kept away from the minor children.

Working with an Attorney

Parents going through a divorce or separation should make all reasonable efforts to come to an agreement regarding as many child-related issues as possible before litigating those issues in court. There are many factors to consider when determining and allocating child custody, and custody and support battles can often take a very long time and litigating the issues will result in a judge, who is essentially a stranger to the family, making important decisions that will impact the family.

In the event that it is not possible to resolve these issues by agreement between parents, it is critical to keep in mind the child’s needs have to be the top priority and that all actions that a parent takes that will impact the child, or the child’s perception of the parent(s) are potentially fodder for the opposing party to use in litigation.  Seeking advice from a child custody lawyer can be critical in deciding how best to handle the factors of child custody when custody litigation may be looming.