Your children are among the most important things in your life. If you and their other parent separate or divorce, it is vital to maintain a meaningful relationship with them regardless of the custody schedule.
If a child custody dispute jeopardizes your time with your children, an experienced Virginia visitation lawyer can help protect your parental rights. A caring child custody attorney at our firm appreciates that it is in your child’s best interests for both parents to be involved in their lives and can help structure a parenting plan that maximizes your visitation with them.
Defining Visitation Under State Law
Generally, state law presumes that a child benefits from reasonable and liberal contact with both parents. Accordingly, judges will often award shared legal and physical custody as long it is in a child’s best interests to do so.
The law aims to provide visitation that allows the noncustodial parent to actively engage with the child as much as possible. However, if a judge determines that shared physical custody is not beneficial for a child, visitation is the non-custodial parent’s right to court-ordered contact with their child. A skilled visitation attorney can further explain the difference between custodial and visitation rights in Virginia.
The “Best Interests of the Child” Standard Applies in All Visitation Cases
Virginia parents are free to negotiate whatever custody arrangement they believe best suits their schedule. However, they must agree on a visitation plan that meets their child’s needs, regardless of its impact on the parent’s day-to-day schedule. If a judge determines that a parent’s proposed plan is not in their child’s best interests, the Court can order a different visitation plan.
To determine a child’s best interests, a family court judge must weigh specific statutorily mandated factors. Some of these include:
- The child’s age and developmental needs
- Each parent’s age, physical health, and mental condition
- Each parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child
- The parent’s willingness to communicate and cooperate with each other about their child
- The schedules of both parents and the child
- The stability of each parent’s relationship with the child
- Each parent’s willingness to encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
Understanding the best interest of the child analysis is essential when presenting a proposed visitation schedule to the court. A Virginia attorney dedicated to actively asserting a parent’s visitation rights can help determine what evidence to submit to a judge to support each of these factors.
Third Party Visitation Rights in Virginia
State law recognizes a parent’s fundamental right to raise their child as they wish, including the right to determine who visits with their child. As such, the Code of Virginia §20-124.2(B) mandates that a third party, also referred to as a “person with a legitimate interest,” must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that awarding visitation is in a child’s best interests. A “person with a legitimate interest” could include stepparents, grandparents, extended family members, or an unrelated party who has been substantially involved in the child’s life.
The legal standard of clear and convincing evidence is understandably high, as courts seek to protect a parent’s right to control their child’s contact with other people, and presumes that a parent acts in the child’s best interests. A person seeking court-ordered contact with someone else’s child is advised to obtain counsel from a reputable visitation lawyer in Virginia.
Seek Legal Guidance from a Seasoned Virginia Visitation Attorney
The prospect of losing time with one’s child after a separation or divorce is terrifying to most parents. Even if shared custody is not awarded, the visiting parent wants to do everything possible to secure and maintain quality time with their child.
If you want to learn more about your legal or parental rights, contact a Virginia visitation lawyer today. A knowledgeable attorney at our firm can answer your questions and work toward a parenting plan that ensures you will not lose contact with your child just because you and the other parent are not in a relationship.