Not knowing if your child will end in your care can be terrifying for a parent. Your children are precious, and going through a custody battle alone can be difficult and emotional. The passionate Virginia child custody lawyers at Melone Hatley, P.C. understand the importance of being with your children. We want to help you seek a fair custody agreement or modification that is in the best interests of your child.
Melone Hatley, P.C. is an experienced family law firm that deeply values an honest and open client relationship with everyone who comes into our office. A child custody attorney from our Northern Virginia law office can help you with the difficult aspects of child custody cases while always keeping your child’s best interests in the forefront.
Family law cases involving child custody are some of the most difficult and contentious a family lawyer can face. Virginia law, as written, does not favor either parent but always considers the best interests of the child.
If the parents are unmarried, the courts consider the child the mother’s offspring. The father must sign the birth certificate to be considered for legal custody. In cases where two parents are not married, it is always best to consult a family lawyer for a father who seeks to assert parental rights.
The two main types of child custody are legal and physical, and each type can be divided between sole or joint custody. Temporary custody is granted in special circumstances. The custodial parent refers to the parent who has custody.
Legal custody refers to the important decisions about a child’s life, such as their doctor, where they go to school, and extracurricular activities. Physical custody refers to the place the child lives most of the time.
During a pendente lite hearing, or when the parties agree, the courts may establish temporary custody. Temporary custody provides for the child’s safety and security while the courts determine permanent custody issues.
Joint legal custody means that the parents share the decisions about their child equally. For the most part, courts prefer co-parenting regarding important decisions such as education and healthcare. Sometimes couples write such decisions into the divorce decree.
The courts usually grant sole legal custody in situations where one parent is mentally or physically unsound or otherwise incapable of making good decisions. Such decisions come down to what is best for the child.
In sole physical custody, the child lives with one parent. The other parent may share legal custody and have visitation rights, but the child has only one address and lives with one parent.
When parents share custody, the parent with whom the child lives with the majority of the time has primary custody. This parent is also called the custodial parent. If, for example, the child lives with one parent most of the time but spends one week a month with the other, the parent with whom they spend most of the time is the custodial parent with primary custody.
Split custody refers to families with multiple children. It is rarely granted because it splits up siblings. In such cases, some siblings live with one parent and others live with the other parent. Split custody is granted only when the interests of the child dictate it and can often be based on the child’s preference if the courts deem the child mature enough to make such a decision.
Shared custody is an arrangement where the parents share roughly equal time with the children. It still may not be a truly 50/50 split.
The family courts will consider the relationship between each parent and the child as well as other aspects of child-rearing, including the following:
Courts consider the child’s age, physical condition, and mental condition. They also consider each parent’s age and mental condition.
The child’s needs, including other important relationships, are important considerations. The role each parent plays in the care and rearing of the child matters, as does the capability of each parent to provide financial child support.
Any history of domestic violence, abuse, or other acts of violence weighs against a parent during child custody hearings. Family law allows courts to consider other factors such as drug abuse, criminal offenses, and whatever the court deems proper and necessary.
The relationship a child enjoys with each parent is an important factor. This also includes each parent’s ability to support the child’s relationship with the other parent, the willingness of each parent to maintain their relationship with their child, and to cooperate in resolving disputes with the other parent regarding their child. If a child is deemed old enough and mature enough, the judge may listen to their opinions as well.
The guardian ad litem (GAL) is a third-party advocate the courts assign to a case. This person’s job is to represent a child’s interests. The GAL comes in when concerns of abuse, neglect, or safety are involved or in cases where the parents do not put the child’s interests first. The GAL is impartial and provides important recommendations to the courts after investigation and interviews.
Every visitation schedule varies widely depending on the individual circumstances of the family. It depends on the parents’ work schedules, how far apart the parents live, and the child’s school schedule, among other factors.
A true 50/50 shared custodial schedule, though unusual, is possible. It happens when parties live close together and can function anywhere from one week on, one week off to alternate days during the week with alternate weekends or another equitable split of time. More often, the courts issue a split where one parent has primary custody, be it 60/40, 70/30, or another division.
Parents are not the only ones who can have visitation rights. Grandparents, step-parents, or any other close relative can petition for visitation rights, and the courts may hear their request. When petitioning for visitation, always ensure your child’s best interests come first. Do not request visitation to keep tabs on your spouse or to punish your spouse.
Consider whether your child will enjoy the visitation and if they want it. Be sure that visitation will maintain and improve your relationship with the child. Think about whether you meet your other responsibilities under the divorce order. Have you canceled visitation appointments in the past?
Finally, consider these two factors: Does the child want the visitation, and is scheduled visitation the only way you can access the child? These both may be important factors. Your Prince William County family law attorney can provide advice and guidance on seeking visitation with your child.
Child support is intended to allow the child to maintain their prior standard of living in a financial sense, much as alimony is designed to allow the same for a spouse. The courts will look at several factors before they make a final decision on child support.
Family court judges consider each parent’s income and financial stability first and foremost. Does one parent make significantly more money than the other? Is one parent more employable than the other?
Alimony, or spousal support, differs from child support, but the judge considers it when calculating child support. The idea is not to put an undue burden on one member of the couple in favor of the other but to allow everyone to maintain a standard of living. If a spouse pays high alimony, it could affect child support payments.
Healthcare costs are rising, and family law judges always consider the health and well-being of the child. If one parent pays the lion’s share of the child’s health insurance, this will factor into the final decision for child support.
Child expenses include clothing, food, extracurricular activities, daycare expenses, school tuition, and other daily expenses of raising the child. These can form a primary consideration in how much support the child needs.
At Melone Hatley, P.C., we are dedicated, experienced divorce lawyers serving Prince William County. We bring many years of experience to the table, and our practice areas cover legal matters concerning all areas of Virginia family law. We represent clients all over Virginia, so whether you are in Fairfax, Richmond, Virginia Beach, or anywhere else in the state, we are ready to help.
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