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Recent Virginia Court Decision Has Long-Term Impact on Visitation Cases

Divorce, custody, and visitation cases are often among the most challenging for all parties involved. From the couple’s perspective, the airing of grievances through the courts only adds stress to an already emotional experience. For the courts, the responsibility of deciding how a family’s future will look weighs heavily.

The latter became especially relevant in a recent case, Rainey v. Rainey, where the trial court decided not to fulfill its role in dictating visitation rights. The initial decisions by the lower and trial courts risked altering all precedent in similar cases – until a March 2022 appeals court ruling. It’s important to understand the context of this case and what it means for you should you end up seeking a Virginia custody or visitation order.

Facts of the case

In Rainey v. Rainey, the couple had previously been married and had two children together. The marriage ended in divorce, and both were granted joint custody in the initial decree.

Eventually, the mother and counselors involved in the case decided it would be in the best interests of all parties if the father took sole custody of the children for a temporary period to allow the father to repair the strained relationship.

Shortly after this, the father began limiting visitation with the mother and sought the support of counselors in doing so. Eventually, the mother was forced to challenge this in the Circuit Court – leading to the surprising initial ruling.

The Circuit Court ruled that the father was in the right to deny visitation with the mother and gave him sole discretion in deciding when and how the children would see their mother (outside of therapeutic visits). This decision was a shock to many because the court’s responsibility is to adjudicate custody and visitation issues as opposed to passing them off to one of the involved parties.

Eventually, the appeals court ruled that this previous decision could not stand – striking down the portion of the ruling that gave the father sole discretion over the visitation schedule.

Appeals court upholds precedent

The Circuit Court ruling risked the possibility of hundreds of old court orders being torn up and amended to allow one party to have the authority to dictate visitation. For obvious reasons, this would be an unfair situation for just about everyone involved and risk some parents losing their connection with their children.

The Appeals Court specifically stated that the court previously failed to fulfill its judicial duty by abdicating that duty to a third party (in this case, the father and the counselors). If the appeals court had ruled in the father’s favor, as previous decisions in the case had, then it would set a new precedent allowing one parent more control over a situation where both parents should be working together.

At Rinehart Bryant, we stand by a parent’s right to spend time with their children. We are thankful for the appeals court ruling reversing the previous decision. If you feel like your rights as a parent are being violated or need to amend an old order, contact your Virginia family law firm today.

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