Custody Arrangements in a Virginia Divorce

How custody is handled in a divorce can be one of the most, if not the most, important decisions that parents can make regarding their children. Custody and visitation is determined using the best interests of the child standard, with the court having preference to both parents sharing the role of raising their children - if that is possible.

Child Custody FAQs (.pdf)

What if we disagree about custody and visitation?

Disagreement over custody is sure to put you in the middle of a bitter and expensive divorce. Custody cases can be the cruelest and most destructive legal situations. Be sure that the children would be significantly better off with you before getting involved in an expensive and emotionally draining custody battle. The best interest of the child is the legal standard in deciding who will get custody. Every judge sees it differently. The mother does not have an automatic edge in litigation in Virginia. The fathers win in at least half of the litigated cases. The best scenario for the child is for the parents to put the child's needs above their own and agree to get along where the child is concerned. Mediation is a useful tool that can help parents come to an agreement that can work out well for everyone.

What if we agree about custody and visitation?

If you and the other parent have already come to a fair agreement on the custody and visitation issue, you may want to write your own "stipulation" and consent order. A "stipulation" is a statement describing the agreement that you have reached. A consent order is a draft for the judge to sign if s/he agrees to accept your agreement. This means that the court can enforce the agreement in the future. If custody and visitation is being worked out as part of a divorce, the parties can spell out the agreed-upon terms in a written Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA).

If you choose to go this route, you and the other parent should be as specific as you can to avoid future conflicts. You should ask yourself, who has legal custody? Which holiday does the child spend with you? What time and where may the other parent pick the child up? What time should the child be returned home? What is the procedure to follow if either of you are running late and won't be there on time? How much notice should you be given if they are planning a vacation? How far away may the other spouse move? What you might think you can figure out as you go along could actually blow up into a full scale war later. The Stipulations should state everything that you have agreed upon. You should not rely on any oral promises. If you both agreed on it, write it down (no matter how trivial it may seem now).

Technology offers some innovative and creative ways for parents separated from their children to connect. "Virtual visitation" is coming to be recognized by the courts as a potentially important way to supplement in-person visits for children and parents that are not able to physically spend as much time together as would benefit their relationship.

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