Custody & Visitation

Custody & Visitation
Top-rated family law attorneys providing guidance and protecting your rights during difficult times. Serving Virginia and North Carolina.
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Custody Attorney in Virginia


Child custody disputes are often excessively lengthy and emotionally taxing. In most situations, both parents want what is best for their children, but they disagree on what that means.

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Custody & Visitation fighting parents

Child Custody Disputes

In some cases, one parent might act selfishly, not thinking about the best interest of the child but only about their interests or retaliating against the other parent. Those cases are heartbreaking because it is clear that the child is not at the forefront of any of the decisions.

Having an experienced Virginia child custody attorney in those situations is essential for you and your child. In many cases, the parents will agree on who should have primary physical custody of the children; but not all cases are as straightforward.

Virginia, like many states, encourages parents to create visitation agreements that keep both parents involved in their children’s lives however, this does not mean that the courts will split time between parents 50/50.

However, if you believe you should have more time than your spouse is willing to give you or your child will be unhappy or unsafe with the other spouse, it may be worth contesting your custody agreement. In your situation, there might be a strong reason for you to have more time with your child compared to your spouse.

In that case, you need a passionate child custody attorney to provide guidance and protect your rights during this difficult time. Melone Hatley, P.C. services Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads — and we are just as interested in protecting the best interests of your child as you are. We can take the stress off you and your children by making the process less emotional and more practical.

Are you struggling with a child custody issue? Schedule a call with one of our client services coordinators today!

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How is Child Custody Determined in Virginia?

When spouses divorce, the issue of “who gets the kids” is often the most difficult and stressful for both parents and children. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the law does not favor either parent. Instead, Virginia Law considers the  best interests of your child, and looks at the relationship between each parent and child. While others may seek custody (grandparents, aunts, uncles), there is always a presumption in favor of the natural parents.

If the parents are not married, Virginia considers any offspring the child of his or her mother. If the father wishes to assert rights to the child, paternity must be established by signing the birth certificate or having it admitted in court. There are several ways to establish paternity, and a father should consult a family law attorney for guidance. Once paternity is established, neither party will be given a preference by the court solely on gender.

Types of Child Custody

What Are the Different Types of Custody in Virginia?

Custody is separated into two parts: legal custody and physical custody.

A parent with legal custody has the right to make plans and decisions for the child’s education, medical care, religious upbringing, discipline, and other matters concerning the child’s welfare.

A parent with physical custody has the child living with them the majority of the time. They make decisions about the child’s everyday needs.

Each additional form of custody stems from these two major categories.

Temporary Custody

Temporary custody refers to who the child is living with on a temporary basis. It is only in effect until the court establishes permanent custody. Temporary custody is generally established during a pendente lite hearing or by agreement of the parties.

Joint Legal Custody

Joint legal custody is when both parents have an equal right to make important decisions involving the child, including their health, education, and welfare.

Sole Legal Custody

This type of custody is where only one parent has the right to make decisions affecting the child’s health, education, and welfare. The other parent does not have a say in these important decisions.

Sole Physical Custody

Sole physical custody simply means that the child lives with just one parent. The other parent might still have visitation or legal custody, but the child will usually only live in one location with one parent.

Primary Physical Custody

Primary physical custody refers to which parent the child resides with the majority of the time.

Split Custody

Split custody arrangements are rare, and they involve one parent having custody of one child and the other parent having primary custody of another child. Some considerations for these arrangements are the child’s age and maturity and their expressed preference.

Shared Custody

Shared custody is an arrangement where the parties share time with the children more equally.

Before deciding custody, the court will consider the factors under Virginia Code Section 20-124.3, or the “best interests of the child” standard.

Need help? You are not alone. Schedule a call with one of our client services coordinators today!

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Schedule a call with one of our client services coordinators.

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child support - father with daughter

How Do Virginia Courts Determine the Custody of the Child?

Parents can create their own custody arrangements before bringing the issue to a court. However, some parents cannot agree on custody. In those situations, a court must decide.

The court will hold a hearing to decide this issue and ask each parent to present their facts and arguments. Then, the court will issue a court order for custody based on the best interests of the child. To make this determination based on Virginia child custody laws, the court will consider the following factors in its decision-making process.

  1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, with consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
  2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
  3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, while considering the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of the child;
  4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers, and extended family members;
  5. The role each parent has played (and will play in the future) in raising and caring for the child;
  6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
  7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
  8. The reasonable preferences of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express such a preference;
  9. Any history of domestic abuse, child abuse, or acts of violence (if the court finds any history of violence, the court may be able to ignore whether one parent supports the child seeing the other parent); and
  10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
Questions regarding child custody? Contact our office today or schedule a call with one of our client services coordinators.

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When Do You Need a Guardian Ad Litem?

guardian ad litem (GAL) is an advocate assigned to the case by the court. This person stands up for the interests of the children involved. A GAL is not assigned to every case, but they might be asked to be involved when there are concerns about abuse or neglect. They might also be involved where there is a concern that the parents (or at least one parent) do not have the child’s best interests in mind.

Ultimately, a guardian ad litem provides an impartial recommendation about what is best for the children, often after conducting interviews and investigating the situation as a whole.

How is Visitation Determined in Virginia?

Visitation defines when each parent will spend physical time with the child. The court will again consider the factors set out above before deciding visitation. Each visitation schedule can vary drastically and will also depend on the parents’ work schedules, the distance between the parties, and the child’s school schedule.

If the parties live close 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.

Visitation rights are not limited solely to the other parent. Additionally, grandparents, step-parents, and other close relatives may be awarded visitation rights.

The court has the power to deny visitation. Normally the court will only stop visitation for a specific period or until a certain task is performed. For example, the court has previously denied visitation until the parent entered and completed a substance abuse program. The court may deny visitation if it is proven that the non-custodial parent is dangerous or has put the child at risk.

Custody & Visitation - mother and daughter

Why Choose Melone Hatley, P.C.?

You cannot choose just any family law attorney when you have legal concerns involving your family. Melone Hatley, P.C. has some key attributes that will be extremely valuable as you work through the child custody process.

  • Experienced, aggressive, and caring child custody lawyersChild custody matters are often highly charged issues. Both parties experience intense emotion, which can make progress difficult. Our team is experienced in mediating these issues and caring knows how to lend a caring ear. We can be as aggressive as necessary to help you get the results that will be the best solution for you and your family.
  • Highly rated by clients. Our clients love the efficient, thorough legal services we provide. We pride ourselves on providing practical, realistic legal advice that you can use immediately. This is what has made us the top-rated attorneys in Virginia.
  • Big law firm experience in a boutique setting. Experience matters in a child custody attorney. Our team has the experience and resources you need for the personal relationship you want in this difficult situation. We are aggressive when we need to be, but understand the value of trying to work together towards a mediated agreement.
  • Client-focused approach with one-on-one attention. Going through a family law matter is never easy, and we understand that every situation is unique. Our approach focuses on you, your needs, and your goals–nothing else..
  • Individualized approach. We are not aggressive for the sake of being aggressive. Instead, we try to get the best results in the most efficient way possible — saving our clients time and money.
  • Law offices in FairfaxVirginia Beach, Hampton Roads, Loudoun, and Richmond. We have convenient locations, so it is easy for our clients to access us for appointments.
Do you need legal assistance with a child custody case? Contact our office today or schedule a call with one of our client services coordinators.

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