When parents have separated or divorced, their parental rights are governed by a custody arrangement or order. A custody order will include provisions regarding visitation, or the right of a parent to spend time with their child.
Visitation, or parenting time, is understandably important for any parent, so if you are negotiating a custody arrangement with your child’s other parent or are facing custody litigation, you need a dedicated, experienced attorney who will fight to make sure you have the visitation time you need to build and maintain your relationship with your child.
Don’t hesitate to talk to a compassionate Virginia Beach family custody attorney at Invictus Law at an initial case evaluation. We’ll go over your options for obtaining the visitation rights that are in your and your child’s best interests.
Types of Custody
In Virginia, child custody is divided into two different types: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent or guardian to make decisions regarding a child’s upbringing, such as those concerning the child’s education, healthcare, or moral/religious instruction. Physical custody refers to having care and control over a child’s person.
Legal and physical custody may come in either joint form or sole form. In joint custody, parents share parenting time with their child and work together to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. In a joint legal custody arrangement, one parent is usually designated the primary physical custodian, with the child residing with that parent most of the time, while also having visitation periods with their other parent. In a joint physical custody arrangement, both parents split substantial periods of parenting time, such as weekdays/weekends or week on/week off arrangements.
In sole custody, only one parent has the right to make decisions for the child and retains care and control over the child. In a sole custody arrangement, the other parent may be awarded limited supervised visitation time.
How Is Custody Determined in Virginia?
Under Virginia law, all child custody determinations must be based on the child’s best interests. Virginia Code §20-124.3 lists the factors that courts must consider when evaluating what custody arrangement would serve a child’s best interests. Some of the factors that courts consider include:
- The existing custody arrangement – Courts prefer not to disrupt a child’s established environment and routines.
- Which parent has served as the primary caregiver, having been responsible for the day-to-day tasks of upbringing, such as taking the child to healthcare appointments, helping the child with schoolwork, taking the child to sports and other extracurricular activities, cooking and cleaning, etc.
- The quality of the bond between each parent and the child, including whether the other parent has intentionally acted to interfere with the bond between a parent and child.
- Which parent will more effectively co-parent? – Courts will prefer to give primary residency to the parent that can more effectively keep the other parent in the loop regarding developments in the child’s life, such as doctors’ appointments, grades and parent-teacher conferences, extracurricular activities, etc., and will seek the other parent’s input before making decisions on behalf of the child.
- Any history of domestic violence in the family’s home or inflicted by one parent on the other.
- The child’s stated preference, if the court finds that the child has the maturity to express a reasoned preference for a particular custody arrangement.
Temporary Custody and Visitation Orders
When parents separate or seek a divorce, the issue of child custody must be immediately settled until a final order can be entered by the court. To that end, courts often use temporary custody and visitation orders to establish a custody arrangement until the parents have had an opportunity to negotiate their preferred custody arrangement or to litigate their case to have the court decide upon custody.
As with any case related to child custody, the court will make a decision based on what they believe is in the best interest of the child or children involved. A temporary custody order, also known as a pendente lite order, may help prevent situations where one parent, who presently has physical custody of a child, refuses to allow the other parent visitation or parenting time without just cause. Usually, the court will prefer to create a schedule that both parents can agree to.
Modifying Visitation in Virginia
Over time, a custody and visitation/parenting time arrangement may become unworkable for a family, especially as parents further their careers or get remarried, or children advance through school and take on new hobbies or extracurricular activities. For that reason, parents may file a motion in court to seek a modification of a visitation order. Modification may be allowed if a parent can prove the existence of a material change in circumstances since the original visitation order was put in place, and that modification of the existing order would serve the child’s best interests.
A material change in circumstances may involve a parent getting a new job or getting remarried, or a parent facing substance abuse or criminal problems, or a child developing educational or behavioral issues. If the court finds a material change of circumstances, it will again apply the factors in Virginia Code §20-124.3 to determine if a modification of the existing visitation arrangement would serve the child’s best interests.
Parenting Time Schedule
When both parents are entitled to spend time with their child under a custody and visitation order, they will need to have a parenting time schedule that designates when each parent will get to have time with the child. Parents may agree to a schedule after negotiation, or if the parents can’t agree, the court may decide upon a schedule that it finds serves the child’s best interests.
Parents may adopt a flexible parenting time schedule that allows the parents to liberally exchange custody according to the parents’ and the child’s schedules. Flexible parenting time schedules can work if the parents can effectively communicate with one another, and if the children subject to the arrangement are older and don’t require a more rigid or predictable schedule or routine.
However, most parenting time schedules specifically set out dates and times when each parent gets to exercise parenting time. Parenting time schedules will also spell out which parent gets to have visitation on holidays and birthdays. The schedule may also set forth procedures for exchanging custody, such as whether a parent must drive the child to the other parent or the other parent must drive to pick up the child, or whether the parents will meet halfway to exchange custody.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Although some parents can easily come to an agreement on custody and visitation time, you may need an attorney if your child’s other parent:
- Has withheld your child or denied you visitation in the past
- Has otherwise attempted to interfere in your relationship with your child
- Has failed in the past to communicate with you regarding major decisions concerning your child
- Won’t agree to visitation time that you believe to be fair
- Wishes to relocate with your child out of the area or out of the state of Virginia
How Invictus Law Can Help
If you’re in the midst of a dispute over visitation in your family’s custody order, Invictus Law can help protect your rights and interests by:
- Offering personalized attention throughout your custody dispute
- Maintaining open and constant communication throughout your case, so you stay up to date with developments in your case
- Ensuring you understand your legal rights and options
- Reviewing the facts of your case and analyzing the law to identify the precise legal issues you face
- Advising you as to the best path forward to pursue the outcomes you want for yourself and your family
- Exerting our core value of “kicking ass” by exceeding your expectations and effectively and aggressively defending your rights and interests
Contact Invictus Law or give us a call at (757) 317-5125 today for an initial, confidential consultation with a skilled attorney. Discuss your legal rights and options regarding child custody and visitation under Virginia law and learn more about how our firm can help you protect and exercise your rights as a parent.