How Modern Family Structures Are Changing Family Law

Written on July 01, 2021

What a family looks like has been rapidly changing over the past few decades—no longer do we have a common family and are more turning to modern family structures. Beginning in the 1960s and accelerating significantly since then, changes in marriage, divorce, legal separation, cohabitation, and nonmarital familial creation have transformed family life, and therefore family law. While how our families look continues to change, the role of the family continues to be raising children and caring for elderly family members. 

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities and Rights

No matter your family structure, our laws regarding children are primarily focused on what is in the best interest of the children. When families are dissolving, these rights and responsibilities are divided among the parents—this division of rights can become a very contentious process. 

These rights and responsibilities are not necessarily given to the biological parents as our laws allow for grandparents and stepparents to petition the courts for rights. In some cases, these individuals may be granted the legal rights of parents, thereby taking some rights away from the actual parent. 

Duty of Discipline

Disciplining children is always a hot-button issue. Attitudes toward corporal punishment are ever-changing and differ widely among different groups of people. While Virginia does allow corporal punishment, the parent must be reasonable. What is reasonable is not solidly defined, but we have heard one judge say anything that would be viewed as depraved is too far. When deciding what is too far, the court will view each family, and each case, separately. 

Right to Custody and Care

The Supreme Court gives parents a constitutional right to make decisions over their child’s companionship, custody, care, and control, this is the legal custody of your children. Parents are given the right to autonomously raise their children under the presumption that they act in their child’s best interest. However, if the custody and visitation of your children are in front of the Court, the judge can divide legal custody however she/he sees fit—using the best interest of the children standard. 

Visitation Rights

Parent’s visitation rights, physical custody, are dependent upon their role as a parent. Even in the cases of abuse or substance addiction, the courts will often grant visitation, although it may be supervised, in order to protect the parent/child relationship. However, if there is a clear showing of physical or emotional danger to the child, the court can block a parent from seeing the children at all. 

Right to Determine Medical Decisions

The right to make medical decisions regarding children is always important, and this falls under legal custody. Parents are given the role of providing this consent before any medical treatment is administered to a child. Parents are not required to consult with the child before making this decision and even have the right to choose a treatment course to which the child objects. 

As families continue to evolve and change, there always be situations where the family members do not agree on how best to move forward. In these instances, it is imperative that you understand your rights to make decisions, have visitation, and have custody of the children involved. It is best to remember that the Court will always weigh any decision regarding a child against what is in the best interest of that child. If you, or anyone you know, is going through this process, contact our attorneys at Melone Hatley, PC to guide you through this ever-changing process.

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