How is Child Custody Determined in Virginia?

Child custody determinations are always made with the child’s best interests in mind, but the considerations vary slightly from state to state. In Virginia, child custody is determined by a number of factors in the state’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts. It is important to understand how child custody is determined in Virginia in order to have the best chance at gaining custody of your child in a divorce.


Types of Child Custody in Virginia

Virginia allows for three types of child custody in a divorce case. The first type is sole custody, where only one parent has physical custody and decision making authority for the child. The non-custodial parent may seek visitation rights. The second type of child custody is joint physical custody, where both parents share physical custody of the child. The third type of child custody is joint legal custody, where regardless of where the child spends most or all of their physical time, both parents have decision making authority over the child’s wellbeing.


How Custody is Determined

Virginia courts give no preferential treatment to placing a child with the mother or father in a divorce case. The judge in the case weighs a list of factors when determining who should get custody of the child. These factors include the following:


  • The role each parent has played in the past upbringing of the child
  • Age and mental condition of the child
  • Age and mental condition of each parent
  • The relationship between the child and each parent
  • The needs of the child
  • The willingness of each parent to actively support the child’s contact with the other parent
  • The willingness of each parent to resolve disputes
  • Any history of abuse
  • The best interests of the child

The court also looks at each parent’s history when determining child custody and certain factors can also sway the decision to one parent or the other. These factors include:

  • Alcohol or illegal drug use
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Adultery
  • Criminal convictions
  • Child Protective Services complaints
  • Civil commitment or mental health hospitalizations
  • Physical or mental impairments that could affect the ability to care for the child


The judge also talks to the child in most cases to take into account his or her preferences, as well. Children under the age of 7 are typically not interviewed, while children between the ages of 7 and 13 years old are sometimes asked by the court what they want. Children ages 14 years and older are required by the court to be asked their preference in child custody hearings. Their preference is usually given considerable weight, unless it is unreasonable.


Once the court has made a determination for child custody, the order is considered final. The only way to change a child custody order is to show that there has been a material change in circumstances for one or both parents since the child custody order was put into place.


Call a Virginia Family Law Attorney

If you have questions regarding child custody in a Virginia divorce case, a family law attorney will be able to help. To schedule a consultation with Virginia family law attorney, Select Law Partners at 540.642.1766.

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Matt Kurylo

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