Fredericksburg Child Custody Attorney

Dividing assets and figuring out “who gets what” are often sources of contention in a divorce. Yet nothing is more important than coming to a custody arrangement that is fair and in the best interest of your child or children. Unfortunately, these arrangements can quickly become the most significant source of contention during divorce proceedings.

Partnering with a family law attorney in Fredericksburg VA is the best way to protect yourself and your child from unfair and unhealthy custody arrangements. The experienced attorneys at Select Law Partners PLLC understand the complexities of Virginia’s child custody and divorce laws. They can work toward an outcome supporting your rights and your child’s well-being. Our team understands how draining and devastating divorce and child custody disputes are and will approach your case with compassion, honesty, and integrity.

Child custody explained

When you have “custody” of a child, you are responsible for the child’s care and can make decisions for and on behalf of that child.

A child’s parents are presumed to be their natural custodians. When those parents are married or both live in the home with the child as a family, the court is not involved in determining which parent does what for the child. 

However, when parents divorce or end their relationship and live separately, they must organize custodial arrangements. Which parent will live with the child and manage matters of daily care? Who decides on the child’s education, health, or other important issues? These and many more concerns must be addressed in a custody agreement or court order if parents cannot agree.

What are the types of custody in Virginia?

The Virginia Code defines custody in two different categories: legal and physical custody. Each category is subdivided into sole legal or joint legal custody and sole physical or shared physical custody.

The types of custody include the following.

Joint legal custody

Parents share equal responsibility for the child’s care and control, jointly making decisions involving health, education, and welfare, even if the child lives primarily with one parent.

Sole legal custody

One parent has final decision-making authority for the child’s health, education, and welfare.

Shared physical custody

Parents share the child’s physical custodial care (in Virginia, “shared physical custody” means both parents have the child over 90 days each year. The child may move between the parents’ respective homes, or the child may stay in one house with the parents rotating in and out of that environment.

Sole physical custody

One parent has the child most of the time and the other has the child 90 days or less during the year. If this occurs, the parent with less than 90 days will have visitation, also called parenting time in Virginia. 

The court may also develop a situation-specific combination of joint legal and physical custody based on the child’s best interests.

How do Virginia courts determine custody?

Virginia courts consider various factors when operating under the “best interests of the child” standard when making custody decisions. Among these considerations are:

  • Whether the parent/s is willing and able to assume custodial responsibilities
  • If others prevented the parent/s from asserting parental rights
  • If the parent/s can care for the child
  • The child’s age
  • The quality of the relationship between the parent/s and child 
  • The child’s relationships with other children and extended family members
  • The quality and suitability of the child’s current custodial environment
  • How a change to the custodial environment could affect the child
  • Any history of abuse involving the child
  • Any other factors the court deems relevant

When can a child give their input on who they’d rather live with?

There is no specific age when a child’s preference will be the controlling factor. Still, Virginia case law has found a child as young as nine years old to be of sufficient maturity to consider preference. Still, generally, a child’s preference will have more impact as a child is older (i.e., 15 years of age or older).

If they have been appointed a guardian ad litem, or an attorney representing their interests, that person may express the child’s preferences to the court. The final custody order made by the Juvenile Court can be appealed to the Circuit Court with the help of a Fredericksburg, VA, child custody attorney as long as it is filed within ten days after the final order is entered. 

Non-custodial parent’s visitation rights

When a court awards one parent sole physical custody, it may allow the non-custodial parents and others to be recognized as a “person of legitimate interest” in visitation rights unless doing so is not in the child’s best interests. The parents may agree on visitation and have it approved by the court, or if they cannot agree, a judge can order the schedule. The schedule can cover “general visitation” days, such as dinners on Wednesdays, holidays and school breaks, summer months, vacations, or other special events. Visitation is also known as parenting time in Virginia.

Grandparent and third-party custody and visitation rights

The Virginia Code defining custodial categories also broadly establishes who is a person of legitimate interest, including, though not limited to, grandparents, step-grandparents, stepparents, former stepparents, blood relatives, and other family members. If the court sees fit, these people, or others can be granted visitation as long as they have a proven interest in being part of the child’s life. It is in the child’s best interest to allow the visits. However, if both parents disagree and do not want a third party to have visitation, such visitation will unlikely occur over both parents’ objections.

While the court will consider visitation for some third parties, it does not recognize any of the following as parties having legitimate interests: 

  • Those who have had their parental rights terminated by the court either, whether voluntarily or involuntarily
  • Those who have an interest in the child through a person whose parental rights have been dissolved by the court, voluntarily or involuntarily
  • Those who have convictions for rape or carnal knowledge of a child between 13 and 15 years of age and the child in question was conceived through those actions

Grandparents and child custody

Grandparents or other third parties seeking child custody face a tough legal battle. The court cannot make this order, according to the Virginia State Bar publication, “without clear and convincing evidence of actual harm to the child.” The harm must result from:

  • Parental unfitness
  • A prior order divesting parental rights
  • The parent/s’ voluntary surrender of their parental rights
  • The child’s abandonment
  • “Extraordinary facts or circumstances” warranting the child’s removal from the parent/s’ care

Laws governing the rights of third parties, including grandparents, are complex and are compounded by the unique circumstances that inevitably come with each case. Partnership with a skilled child custody lawyer in Fredericksburg, VA, who attends to the specifics of your case is critical if you are seeking third-party visitation or custodial rights.

Visitation for grandparents

Grandparents are often the “third parties” seeking visitation with the child. An article on the Virginia State Bar website explains how the court approaches these requests. Decisions are largely influenced by the positions of each child’s parents, such as: 

  • When both parents favor the visitation, Virginia law does nothing to prevent it.
  • When both parents are against visitation, the burden is on the grandparents to show the child will suffer harm from the denial. According to the article, the Virginia Court of Appeals has established a high standard for proving “harm.”
  • When only one parent favors visitation, they can allow or disallow visitation during their parenting time. However, some situations pose complications, such as if the parent favoring visitation is incarcerated and the one against it is the custodial parent. Here, the grandparents would have to petition the court for visitation, and the court would decide if contact is in the child’s best interest.
  • If the parent favoring grandparent visitation dies or becomes incapacitated, the grandparents can petition the court to prove the deceased parent’s consent. If a step-parent subsequently adopts the child, grandparents may lose visitation rights since an adoption will take precedence over any existing visitation order.

Enforcement of custody agreements

Child custody orders and enforcement are under the purview of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court or if part of a divorce proceeding, done in the Circuit Court. Once orders for custody and visitation are in place, the arrangement cannot be altered except through subsequent court orders. 

If one party fails to uphold their part of the order, the other can petition the court to enforce the agreement by filing a “Motion for Show Cause Summons.” The court may appoint an attorney as the child’s guardian ad litem. 

If one or both parties wish to change the child custody arrangement, they must file a “Motion to Amend.” Whether you want a child custody agreement drafted, enforced, or amended, connect with a custody lawyer from Select Law Partners PLLC in Fredericksburg, VA.

Put your child custody case in our capable hands

Select Law Partners PLLC is a team of experienced, dedicated attorneys ready to help you through one of the most significant legal processes you will ever face. Child custody arrangements remain unless the court orders otherwise until your child turns 18. You need to ensure these agreements respect your role in your child’s life and support your child’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being, and we can help.

Contact Select Law Partners PLLC by calling (855) 541-4867 or completing our online form to schedule a consultation. We look forward to hearing your concerns and working together toward a solution. We want what is best for you and your child and will work diligently to achieve these outcomes.  

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