In Virginia custody is separated into two parts – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions regarding the child relating to their health, education, and general welfare. More often than not, parents are awarded joint legal custody. Physical custody is where the child resides the majority of the time. Most of the time one parent will have primary physical custody. The court can also award shared custody, where the parties share time on a more equal basis.
Before making any determination of custody, the court will consider the factors under Virginia Code Section 20-124.3, or the “best interests of the child” standard. Factors the court will consider include:
Visitation defines when each parent will have custodial time with the child. The court will again consider the factors of code section 20-124.3 before making a determination. Each visitation schedule can vary drastically and will also depend on each parent’s work schedule, the distance between the parties, and the child’s school schedule.
If the parties live in close proximity to one another and the school schedule allows, the court may order a true 50/50 shared custodial schedule. This can range from a week-on-week off visitation schedule, or something more like a 2-2-3, where the parties alternate time during the week and exchange weekends.
In some cases, other interested parties may petition for and be awarded visitation. Parties with any legitimate interest can be awarded visitation. Some examples of interested parties include grandparents, stepparents, adult siblings, or other relatives to the child.
Before initiating a custody and visitation case, it’s important to understand which court has jurisdiction. Virginia has adopted the UCCJEA, or Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. This statute sets out where jurisdiction of the matter is proper. Before filing a case in Virginia, the petitioning party has to verify there are no prior custody orders and the child has resided in Virginia for at least 6 months.
There can be situations where Virginia will exercise jurisdiction even when these requirements have not been met, such as in emergency motions. You should consult with a child custody lawyer before initiating a custody case to ensure you file in the proper place.