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How is Child Custody Determined in Virginia?

At Rinehart Bryant, PLLC, we know that the most important questions to parents who are going through a divorce revolve around the well-being of their children. Most parent’s first thought is: who will the children live with? While all states have different methods of determining child custody, Virginia’s method relies on considering what is in the best interest of the child.

In Virginia, contested child custody cases are decided by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court or the Circuit Court. Of course, separating parents can also reach agreement, which are informal or memorialized in a court order. Virginia law outlines certain factors that the court always has to consider when determining custody. The same can be found in Virginia Code Section 20-124.3. All of the factors have to be considered by the Court in every case, but they do not have to be considered equally and the Court can also find that some factors do not apply to case at hand. The Court’s guiding principle in all custody cases is based on determining what will be in the best interest of the child..

In Virginia, there are two types of child custody that are determined separately: physical and legal. Physical custody is what you think of as traditional custody. It covers who the child lives with and who takes care of them in day to day life. Typically, either one parent is named as having primary physical custody or custody is awarded jointly to both, i.e. shared physical custody.

Just because one parent has primary physical custody does not mean that the other parent is out of their lives. It simply means the child spends more time with that parent. In shared physical custody scenarios, the child spends roughly fifty percent of their time with each parent.

Legal custody refers to the ability to make important decisions impacting the life of the child. These include medical decisions, educational decisions, and religious decisions. Unlike physical custody, legal custody is generally awarded jointly. This gives both parents the right to have a say in their child’s life.

If parents who enjoy joint legal custody cannot come to an agreement about a particular issue, the final say typically rests with the parent who has primary physical custody. Some services, such as the child going to therapy or getting a passport, will require both parents who have legal custody to consent. If one parent has sole legal custody of their child, only their consent is typically required. 

If the parents of a child are not married, their custody case must be initiated in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court; preferably in the county in which the child primarily resides. If the parents of a child are married and wish to simultaneously seek a divorce, they can file for divorce in the Circuit Court, which has concurrent jurisdiction with the Juvenile Court over the issues of custody. 

In most custody cases, all parties involved want the same thing: to find what will be the best for the children involved. If you are dealing with a custody case, contact Rinehart Bryant, PLLC today! We believe in caring for our clients at every step of the process.

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